Ancient Sumer


Introduce your children to Ancient Sumer with this guide. Featuring facts and information about Ancient Sumer, they’ll learn about the culture, religion and history of this civilisation.

Ancient Sumer

Ancient Sumer was an ancient civilisation that existed from c. 5300 BC to c. 1940 BC in the Mesopotamia region, where the rivers Tigris and Euphrates meet. This area of land was known as the Fertile Crescent and was home to several early civilisations, located in modern-day Iraq.

This fascinating civilisation dominated this region for around 2,000 years and are often regarded as the creators of modern civilisation. The Ancient Sumerians were responsible for many innovations in areas such as language, architecture, mathematics and science. They are also known as the first civilisation to use schools as a way to pass information between generations to keep society developing.

Ancient Sumer was made up of several individual city-states that had their own Go‌d or Go‌ddess and ruler. The largest of Ancient Sumerian cities, Uruk, was home to between 40,000 and 80,000 people. Each city was surrounded by a large, defensive stone wall, with small farming villages outside them.

Ancient Sumer Timeline

The Ancient Sumer civilisation spanned from the late Stone Age to the early Bronze Age:

c. 5400 BC: The Ancient Sumerian civilisation begins with the City of Eridu being founded.

c. 4500 BC: The Ancient Sumerians found the City of Uruk and build their first temple, known as ziggurats.

c. 3600 BC: Writing is invented by the Sumerians at Uruk.

c. 3500 BC: Lower Mesopotamia consists of numerous Sumerian city-states such as Ur, Eridu, Uruk, Lagash, Kish, Nippur.

c. 3200 BC: Earliest evidence for written language in Sumerian.

c. 2500 BC: Reign of King Eannatum

c. 2150 – c. 1400 BC: The Sumerian Epic, Gilgamesh, is written on clay tablets.

c. 1940 BC: The fall of the Ancient Sumer civilisation with the invasion of the Elamites.

What is Ancient Sumer Known For?

The Ancient Sumerians are known for a variety of inventions and achievements. From the creation of the wheel to the first use of writing to record events, this wonderful civilisation is responsible for some of the most important innovations throughout history.

Sumerian Art and Architecture

The Ancient Sumerians were the first civilisation credited to have built grand architecture in the form of large-scale monuments and buildings. They would use sophisticated building methods such as brickwork, mosaics, painting and metalwork to build religious structures and homes.

They got so proficient with their building of monuments that they started creating huge religious pyramid-shaped temples called Ziggurats. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is one of these which, in modern times, is considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

They would also create wonderful sculptures by using innovative crafting methods such as woodwork and metal casting. Additionally, the Sumerians were known for creating high-quality pottery and jewellery, some of which can be found in museums around the world to this day.

Sumerian Science and Mathematics

Throughout the rule of Ancient Sumer, the people developed a huge range of inventions using new, innovative uses of mathematics and science. They developed their very own medical system, which used herbs and natural resources to treat illness and cure disease. They also appear to have had a good understanding of the human anatomy, and it is believed that they were one of the first civilisations to perform surgery on each other.

Ancient Sumer is also attributed with developing inventive farming methods using their knowledge of mathematics and hydraulic engineering. They invented irrigation and learned how to control the flooding of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates to their benefit. Additionally, they even built working canals, a feat that no civilisation had achieved before them.

Even in modern times, we still use a lot of the mathematical innovations that the Ancient Sumerians developed. For example, they invented timekeeping and coined the idea of there being 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. Next time you look at a clock, you can thank the people of Ancient Sumer!

Ancient Sumerian Religion

Instead of one single deity, the Sumerian people worshipped different Go‌ds and Go‌ddesses. This is called a polytheistic religion.

In Sumerian religion, the people believed that each of these Go‌ds was responsible for managing and controlling different aspects of their lives. For most Sumerian people, the main purpose of their life was to please the Go‌ds. Each Sumerian city has its own Go‌d or Go‌ddess and several priests whose job it was to serve the Go‌ds and grow the Sumerian religion.

Some of the most popular Go‌ds and Go‌ddesses from the Sumerian religion include:

  1. Enlil: Go‌d of air and storms and considered to be the father of the Go‌ds. Sumerian people believed that Enlil separated the earth from the heavens.
  2. Ninhursag: Go‌ddess of the earth who was thought to be responsible for creating life and plants.
  3. Enki: Go‌d of water, art and science. The Sumerian people believed that Enki was full of fun and often mischievous.
  4. Utu: Go‌d of the sun and responsible for making sure that all was well in the world.
  5. Ninurta: Go‌d of war. In Sumerian art, Ninurta was often depicted as holding a bow and sword.

5 Facts About Ancient Sumer:

  1. The largest Sumerian city, Uruk, is believed to have been the biggest city in the world during its existence. This huge settlement had over six miles worth of defensive walls and was one of the largest trading hubs in the region.
  2. One of the largest pieces of literature from Ancient Sumer that exists today is the 3,000-word poem, the Epic of Gilgamesh. The poem follows a Sumerian king who battles his way through dangerous forests full of monsters and evil.
  3. Gilgamesh might have been a real person. Thankfully, the Ancient Sumerians were very good at keeping a record of the most important people who lived throughout the history of their civilisation. In fact, they were so good that there is actually a record of a king named Gilgamesh in 2700 B.C. According to research, Gilgamesh may have been responsible for the construction of the defensive walls around Uruk, and it is suggested that the poem was written in his honour and to portray him as a mythical hero.
  4. As well as the Sumerian invention of timekeeping, they also developed other important mathematical principles that we use today. For example, they came up with the idea of there being 360 degrees in a circle and 12 inches in a foot.
  5. Ancient Sumer was discovered as recently as the 19th century. The civilisation was only discovered when British and French archaeologists found remnants of Sumerian buildings, artefacts and works of art in the deserts of Iraq.

Ancient Sumer: KS2 Teaching Resources

If you’re looking for some fantastic worksheets, activities and lesson plans to support your teaching of Ancient Sumer to KS2 students, we’ve got you covered. From detailed teaching packs to beautiful display materials, we have everything you need to create a lovely learning experience for your students.

Check out our full range of resources here, or, get started with the materials below.

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