Home » Mesopotamia » Peoples of ancient Mesopotamia

Peoples of ancient Mesopotamia

Who are the Sumerians and Akkadians, and later the Babylonians and Assyrians

Mesopotamia III thousand BC

Mesopotamia III thousand BC

Even before the appearance of the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, there was a mysterious cultural community called the Ubaid culture in the literature.

But usually the oldest of the mentioned civilized peoples of Mesopotamia, the undisputed creators of Mesopotamian writing were the Sumerians, who settled Lower Mesopotamia at the beginning of the IV thousand BC. At the end of the IV thousand BC. e. a special branch of Semites moved to Mesopotamia from Northern Arabia – the so-called Eastern Semites, who received the name “Akkadians”in science. One group of Eastern Semites settled in the north of the territory occupied by the Sumerians (the Sumerian name for this area is Ki-Uri), and another group settled in the Middle Tigris. From the first group of Eastern Semites, who mixed with the Sumerians and eventually assimilated them, comes the Babylonians, from the second – the Assyrians. Babylonian and Assyrian languages are different dialects of the East Semitic (Akkadian) language, separated from each other at the turn of the III-II millennium BC.

The appearance of the “Akkadians”

At the end of the third millennium BC, a great power emerged in Lower Mesopotamia, covering all of Mesopotamia. Its capital was the city of Akkad, located in the region of Ki-Uri. During this period, for the first time in official inscriptions, East Semitic began to be used along with Sumerian. As a result, the East Semitic language in Mesopotamia began to be called Akkadian, and modern scholars refer to its speakers as Akkadians.

Common “black-headed”

Figures of the gods from Eshnunna

Votive figurines (gods?) from Eshnunna Temple Square. 2900-2600 BC Made of alabaster, limestone, gypsum.

The Sumerian-Akkadian-speaking population of Lower Mesopotamia (the ancestors of the Babylonians) and the Akkadian-speaking population of the Middle Tigris (the ancestors of the Assyrians) perceived themselves as a single bilingual superethnos. The people of this superethnos even had a common self-name: in both Sumerian and Akkadian, they defined themselves as “blackheads” (in Sumerian-sang – ngiga, in Akkadian-tsalmat kakkadi). This superethnos is what modern scientists call the “ancient Mesopotamians”, “carriers of the Mesopotamian civilization”. The commonality of the” blackheads ” distinguished itself not by political criteria (they were not so often united within the borders of one power), but by civilizational criteria. Members of communities and clans that supported the cult of Sumero-Akkadian deities and considered one of them as their main community patron, who spoke Sumerian and Akkadian languages and used Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform script, were referred to as”blackheads”. Thus, the community of “blackheads” was an ethno-cultural community in the modern sense of the word.

The importance that the Mesopotamians attached to their identification of the “blackheads”, regardless of any political boundaries, is clearly shown by the example of the famous Laws of Hammurabi, who ruled all of Mesopotamia. In the introduction to these Laws, Hammurabi declares himself the ruler and protector of the “blackheads”, after which he lists many cities under his control. However, as it turned out, this list does not include all the cities that were actually part of his empire, but only those that were inhabited by Sumero-Akkadians who supported the cults of the Sumero-Akkadian gods listed in this list next to each city named in it. Thus, within the entire circle of the lands under his control, Hammurabi distinguishes the Sumero-Akkadian ethno-ritual area and only considers it as “his”, and does not even mention his other possessions.

Assimilation of the Sumerians by the Akkadians

The community of “blackheads” has come a long way in history. At the turn of the III-II millennium BC, the Akkadians completely assimilated the Sumerians. However, the former division of the “blackheads” into Akkadians and Sumerians, as well as the division of the Lowest Mesopotamia into the Sumerian south and the Akkadian north, did not pass without a trace. Sumerian remained for all the “blackheads” the “dead” language of learning and ritual. Lower Mesopotamia retained the name “Sumer and Akkad”, and the descendants of the inhabitants of the Sumerian south of Lower Mesopotamia were now considered as a special people of “Primorye” as part of the community of “blackheads”.

At about the same time, as already mentioned, the Akkadian-speaking population of Lower Mesopotamia was separated in dialect from the Akkadian-speaking inhabitants of the Middle Tigris Valley, centered in Assur. Soon this separation was consolidated politically:

  • Lower Mesopotamia united around Babylon,
  • Ashur remained independent of him.

As a result, by the middle of the second millennium BC, the “blackheads” themselves divided themselves into three peoples:

  • Assyrians,
  • Akkadians (Babylonians)
  • and Primorye-descendants of the Sumerians of the extreme south of the Two Rivers, assimilated by the Akkadians.

In the next few centuries, the Primorye people completely merged with the Babylonians, so that in the first thousand BC it was just about the Assyrians and Babylonians. The last traces of the former ethno-territorial distinction between the Sumerian south and the Akkadian north of Lower Mesopotamia have finally been erased and forgotten.

Making the “blackheads” into a community

Map of the Akkadian Empire and the third Dynasty of Ur.

Map of the Akkadian Empire and the third Dynasty of Ur.

Although the “blackheads” distinguished themselves in the community not on a political, but on an ethno-cultural basis, later they still developed a special concept that shaped their already established unity politically and territorially. Finally, this concept was formed at the end of the third millennium BC under the kings of the third dynasty of Ur. Since that time, it was believed that the Sumero-Akkadian area formed a strong territorial unity – the country of “Sumer-and-Akkad”, which the gods themselves intended to exist under one authority, as a special kingdom.

From now on, if there was political fragmentation in Mesopotamia, it was perceived as a temporary disaster; it was believed that as soon as the gods returned their favor to the country, it would be united again. The wars between the various kingdoms of fragmented Mesopotamia and the change of political centers of the country were now understood not as the usual confrontation of different states, but as the transition of the unified state of the kingdom of “Sumer-i-Akkad” from one dynasty to another. From the XVIII century BC. and until the decline of Mesopotamian civilization, the capital of the kingdom of “Sumer-and-Akkad” was almost invariably Babylon, so when talking about the events of the middle of the II-I millennium BC, many authors call this kingdom Babylonia.

The appearance of the Assyrians

Since the XIV century BC, the Mesopotamians ‘ perception of their history was complicated by the fact that an Assyrian power appeared at the northern boundary of “Sumer-i-Akkad” (Babylonia): the city-state of Assur united under its rule the vast territories of Upper Mesopotamia, thus becoming the capital of a new powerful kingdom. Assyria defined itself as a distinct geopolitical entity, separate from Sumer-i-Akkad, but wanted to unite with it under the auspices of the Assyrian kings.

The Assyro-Babylonian wars, which had not ceased for many centuries, caused by these claims, did not lead to any lasting results and ended only with the death of Assyria. During this time, the Assyrians tried many ways to keep Babylonia under their rule-from direct annexation to the creation of a special autonomous Babylonian kingdom as part of the Assyrian empire (its throne was usually given to one of the Assyrian princes), but they could not achieve the submission of the Babylonians. In the end, Babylonia, rebelling against Assyria, destroyed it (Con. VII. BC) and for some time was the only state of the “blackheads”. In 539 BC, as a result of the Persian conquest, Mesopotamia became part of the Persian Empire.

Aramaic assimilation of the “blackheads”

The ethnocultural community of the “blackheads”, having lost its independent statehood, continued to exist for several more centuries. Its history ended with the Aramaic assimilation of the”blackheads”. The Arameans (the ancient “Syrians”, as the Greeks called them; not to be confused with the modern Syrians-Arabs) are one of the largest Semitic peoples of the ancient East, who settled in Mesopotamia at the beginning of the first millennium BC. With the death of Assyria, a significant part of the Assyrian community was destroyed, and the rest began to rapidly Arameanize. After the Persian annexation of Babylonia, its Akkado-speaking population was also quickly assimilated by the Arameans, losing their former language, writing, and many cultural values. By the end of the first millennium BC, only a part of the population of the largest cities spoke Akkadian and performed Sumero-Akkadian rituals. Near the turn of er and it arameized. Both of its languages, Sumerian and Akkadian, as well as its written language (cuneiform) finally out of use. Thus ended the history of the “black-headed” people and the civilization of ancient Mesopotamia.

Tell your friends:


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 ratings, average: 1.00 of 5)