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Saturday, October 18, 2014

4000-539 B.C.: First civilizations advance medicine, part 2

So with Urek as the capital of Sumeria, its god, the god of the sky, became the chief among all the gods.  He was Lord of the Heavens, Lord of the Constellations, Lord of the spirits and demons. The great legends and myths of Urek became known to all the people of Sumeria.  They all learned of legends and myths such as how the gods created the world from mud, and how a mighty king of Urek by the name of Galgamesh set off on a great adventure with his friend Enkidu to defeat the monsters and demons that were wreaking havoc on the world.  After the gods killed Enkidu, a saddened Galgamesh set off on a quest to find eternal life.

Galgamesh met a man named Utnapishtim who was granted eternal life by the gods after he survived the Deluge with one of all the animals (a story similar to that of Noah).  Utnapishtim told Galgamesh about a magic herb that would grand eternal life that was at the bottom of the sea.  Galgamesh found the magic herb, but it was stolen by a serpent, who then developed the ability of renewed life by shedding it's skin.

Still, there would have been ongoing disagreements among the rules of the other city-states, and at various times one or another of these city-states ruled over Sumeria, with its god moving to the head of the hierarchy of Sumerian gods.  It's legends were learned by the people.  Yet even as this happened, the legends and gods of the previous ruling city-states continued to be worshiped.

In either case, Sumeria started out as a democracy and ended as a monarchy. One person made himself king, ruler of all Sumeria, and he chose his successor when he died (which probably was his son in most cases).  (Foster, page 46) 

An assembly of elders and warriors of the monarchy were required by the gods to make sure all the people did the work of the gods, and so members of the monarchy had time to sit around and think.  They also had time to collect things other than simply food and things that were essential to life.  They learned they could obtain more "things" by taxing the slaves of the gods, who were more than willing to offer the goods they produced because they believed in the myths created by the kings and the king's people.  

Through taxes the kings collected items of pottery and gold.  They collected wood carvings.  They collected an abundance of food.  They made the god's slaves build for them some of the most impressive structures of all the land, and the people did this because they thought they were doing the work of the gods.  So in this way, Sumerians were among the first to amass a collection of material items, many of which have been discovered by archeologists.  The Sumerians and Babylonians worshiped these items as opposed to the gods, and perhaps it was in this way the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel unfolded

The writers of the Hebrew Bible made bold predictions regarding the Babylonians, and to the plight of archaeologists and historians, the boldest of these predictions came true.  As noted by Plinio Prioreschi in is 1998 history of medicne:
"The Mesopotamian civilization differed greatly from its contemporary and neignboring Egyptian civilization.  It has been pointed out that whereas the latter was characterized by confidence in the powers of man and by a frontier spirit full of youthful self-reliant arrogance, the 'mood' of the Mesopotamian civilization is well expressed in a quotation from the Galgamesh Epic: 'mere man -- his days are numbered; whatever he may do, he is but wind.' As if to express the same difference, the Egyptian pyramids still stand to proclaim the power of man, whereas the prophecy of Jeremiah (51:37) that 'Babylon shall become heaps' has come to pass, as all that was built in Mesopotamia has crumbled to dust."(Prioreschi, pages 427-8)
So the melancholy nature of the people of Mesopotamia was well known, and this may have played a role in their ruthless nature.  And perhaps this was the reason the various Sumerian city-states created laws,  or codes, that people were required to follow.  Many of these rules were very strict, such as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a hand for a hand.  It was all an experiment, you must understand, because they had no examples to learn from.  This was completely unlike the members of the Constitutional Convention when they got together in Philadelphia around 4,700 years later, who had many examples to learn from as they were creating the U.S. Constitution. The problems faced by the Sumerians had never been faced before, and the solutions were the first solutions.
Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians created armies and armed them with
knives, swords, spears, and arrows.  This was necessary both to control the
people amid society, but also to protect themselves from enemy nations and,
of course, to fight wars.  (Weaponsandwarfarecom)

Another problem was motivating people to do the work, and to fight wars.  Perhaps the first democracies didn't work because, left alone, people weren't willing to make the sacrifices necessary for the collective. Or perhaps these weren't true democracies, and they weren't formed correctly.  Perhaps a ruler was only chosen during times of strife, and between strife people and city-states were left to do as they pleased, and this was part of the problem, or why problems ensued.

Of course, the founding fathers learned all those years later that democracies never work, because they require every person to stay up on politics, and Lord knows people don't do this.  With most people refusing to vote, or not understanding the need to, or not being interested, one person in power almost always becomes the divine ruler.  This is what happened in ancient Rome, and in ancient Greece, and many times, over and over, throughout history.  Yet the people around Mesopotamia did not know this as they were creating the first governments.

So, perhaps due to the failures of democracies, for whatever reason, monarchies were established.  Perhaps the most powerful king of one of the city-states stood up to the challenge and was accepted as king of the civilization.  It became his job to motivate the people to do the work of the gods, as, after all, they were created by the gods to be servants for those gods.  At least that's what the people were told.  This was the best way, perhaps, for the ruling parties to obtain and maintain order.  This was the best way to make progress.

Picture of Ziggurat in the public domain.
Yet even the king himself was a servant to his god, and this god lived in a temple. Such temples were impressive structures that were built on hills or mounds.  Some of these city-states may have been built around such mounds, although some of the mounds may have been created by human labor. The mighty temples upon them were called Ziggurats. 

Public buildings were built around these temples, and among these buildings were palaces for the ruling class, homes for the priests and even schools and libraries. Wrapped around these mounds were homes made of mud brick and reed sticks that were "closely packed together along narrow, winding streets." (Kingfiisher) 

Surrounding these were many fields where crops were grown (mostly grain) and tamed animals roamed.  Surrounding these were nearby towns, much like today's cities have suburbs. (Foster, 38-39)
The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)(from Wikepedia)

The purpose of the Ziggurat was to provide a home for the god or goddess of the city-state to live. These temples were impressive structures, and originally they were made of mud-brick, the same as the individual homes.  When there were floods sometimes the mud would wash away, and the people would  band together to rebuild the temples.  When they did this they made the temples bigger and larger than before, and far more impressive  As greater knowledge and material was obtained, these temples were made of rock, material that did not wash away by the floods.  Many of these structures, although warn by centuries of the rain and sun beating upon them, are still available for modern people to enjoy. Some speculate that the temple built by the people in the city-state of Babylon was the Tower of Babel referred to in the Bible. (Foster, page 39)

To be continued...

References:  See post "2000 B.C.:  Assyrian physicians will treat your dyspnea"
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