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In Samuel Noah Kramer’s History Begins at Sumer, he stated “It has long been my contention that in spite of the obvious differences, both superficial and profound, between the culture, character, and mentality” of the ancient Sumerians and modern humans, the two groups are “fundamentally analogous, comparable, and reciprocally illuminating”. To sum this up in other words, Samuel Noah Kramer suggested that in spite of obvious differences you will see that both Sumerians and modern humans are comparable in certain aspects of life. Mostly comparable within our character and mentality, but Kramer seen a comparison in which stood out from previous complex society’s. His objective was to gather information to see if some of these problems that we have today existed within the ancient Sumerian society. The information that Kramer gathered revolved was mainly based off of religion, social, and political aspects of Sumerian and modern day lifestyles. In Kramer’s passage The First “Sick” Society, he would try to prove that we weren’t the first society to have failings and shortcomings.
The first good example that Kramer had suggested was based off of a political standpoint and as he put it, society’s most catastrophic affliction commonly today known as war. According to him, warfare and battles were rampart all over the Ancient Near East. “The modern history books were filled with grisly details taken from numerous royal inscriptions, and particularly the annals of the Assyrian Kings” (Kramer). This is a passage from History Begins at Sumer, so from this we can understand back then they experienced wars and tragedies as well. Only today wars were wrote down in history books to stop them from happening in the future, whereas back in 4500-4000 B.C. it was to only praise the victors and or conquerors. These royal inscriptions didn’t really go into detail on the wars after effects but as we know, any war comes with a price. It’s hard to have a war between two complex society’s or social groups and not have it impact economic, social, political, or even religious lifestyles. Also as we begin to look at the “Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur” we can conclude that law and order ceased to exist. The reason law and order did not exist can be explained following the defeat of the Sumerians by their neighboring enemies. As a consequence of the defeat, the Sumerians were forced into captivity as foreigners took over their land. From this you might see that they didn’t really have a strong political system or sense of government so it was survival of the fittest. The strongest people would dominate in this particular situation the lands, whereas the weak would suffer and get whatever was left if the managed to survive. Today however, we have regulations regarding this in the Constitution. In fact though, the Nazis swore by “Survival of the Fittest” this along with Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin. Back to the point however, although they didn’t have a political system this can compared to modern day as well. For example, Somalia lacks a form of government and political system also so from this we can relate to the Sumerians. Another example we could take from this, is that the Sumerians were overthrown because they lacked a political system. This could be compared to the Tsar government being overthrown in 1917. The reason they were overthrown was due to their poor governing and their lack of reality. In the Tsar government most of the aristocrats had no idea what was actually going on in Russia, hence the reason they were overthrown by the Bolsheviks. So you could conclude that if the Sumerians would have had a better political system this might not have happened to them. What Kramer learnt from this as well as I, is that although the Sumerians had their downfalls and shortcomings we experienced some of same things that the Sumerians had gone through, thus making us somewhat comparable.
This brings me to my next point in Kramer’s controversy. War as we know it, is a major cause of inflation and this was also true for ancient Sumer. Not only did they experience the political wrath of the war, but they saw the after effects on the economic standpoint as well. To truly see what really happened though Kramer had us look at the “Lamentation over the Destruction of Sumer and Ur” as well as the “Curse of Agade”. When looking at both these stories, you will see that Akkad and Sumer were the first of many empires to rise and fall in the area of Mesopotamia. When Sumer was defeated by neighboring enemies they experienced a need to obtain resources. As the rivers and canal beds dried out and their crops and orchards were left uncultivated, the Sumerians faced a tough time in their life as they struggled to find the resources needed in order to survive. Also when we take a look at these two stories you will see how prices rose twenty to two hundred times above what they normally were. The prices rose so high that a shekel of silver could only get you on ban of fish. In today’s society 50 shekels would probably buy get you dinner at Red Lobster so you can imagine what one shekel would get you. Is this similar to what we are experiencing today? Gas and milk are shooting through the roof along with a lot of other products. From the two passages that Kramer had us look at, it’s not hard to say that the Sumerians faced somewhat of a depression similar to what our aunts and uncles experienced in the 1930’s or even what some people are facing today. So as you can see we also faced some of the similarities that the ancient Sumerians had experienced as well. Everybody thought peace was so significant back then, but they also had their gruesome and bloody battles which took place both impacting political and economic standpoints.
As wars rage on, it was not the war itself that brought an end to the Sumerians. Rather it was the economic and political incentives that brought about their end. With that being set aside, there was one more thing that Kramer seen in comparison to the Sumerians and modern day civilization. The thing that he pointed out was their social or religious views. The Sumerians had a class system that is very similar to ours today. In our society we have it broken into Upper, Middle, and Lower Classes. As for the Sumerians however, they have theirs similar to us but with a small difference. For example, instead of just saying Upper or Middle class, the Sumerians had their social system broken up into jobs. So the Upper class would consist of the priests, government officials, warriors, and nobleman. Whereas the Middle class would consist of craftsman, merchants, farmers, traders, and mason workers. Then finally comes your slaves which would fall into the lower class. So you can tell that the Sumerians have a class system similar to ours, just theirs goes more into depth. Another thing that the Sumerians had advanced in was their writing system. Cuneiform Script is known to be one of the earliest systems of writing. This style of writing revolved around a system of pictographs where each pictorial object would carry its own meaning. This form of writing was usually written on clay tablets which later developed into paper thousands of years later. We can learn from this though, that the Sumerians were very intelligent compared to past hominids who didn’t have a form of communication. Several decades later these very same pictographs used by the Sumerians transformed into writing system that we use today. Over the years pictographs developed into words due to it became easier to understand and it was a much faster way of writing. As for their religion, Sumerians believed that their world was controlled by different Gods and Goddesses. They believed that each God Goddess was responsible for one particular thing. So that would have for example Enlil who was the God of the Air, or Utu who was considered the God of the Sun. Although they prayed to more than one God, it is easy to say that they had supernatural beings that they looked upon for guidance similar to many people in our world today. For the Sumerians, they could go to temples where they would then give their thanks and praise to the Gods. Today however, temples have transpired into what’s now called a church but both of these places revolve around the same basic principle and were created so that people could go and make offerings and give thanks to their Gods.
As Samuel Noah Kramer suggested, despite our differences the Sumerians and modern humans are a lot more similar than we think. When most people look back at previous human beings, we don’t really understand their way of thinking. One might raise the question, why did they pray to several Gods instead of just one or why did they use pictures instead of words? The fact of the matter is though, us modern day humans are not too far off from the Sumerians. We do some of the very same things that they did, except we have a different way of doing it. What we can learn from this though is that although we think were significantly different from past hominids, we have traits and do things very similar to how the Sumerian did things. I feel as though Samuel Noah Kramer did a great job at demonstrating this as he pulled out some great information to help us relate to this. I know each time I look back at past hominids, I won’t just think of cavemen. As Samuel Noah Kramer said despite our obvious differences we are somewhat comparable to that of the Sumerians.
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