Ancient Mesopotamia Class System

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Just like the ziggurats that dotted its landscape, the social class system of ancient Mesopotamia was highly stratified. This lesson shows the major classes within that society.

Classes like a Ziggurat

Chances are when you think of Mesopotamia, one of the first things to come to mind is a Ziggurat, one of those tall mud-brick structures that dotted the Sumerian and Babylonian skylines. They were sharply divided into various layers. Interestingly enough, this provides us with the same social structure of the Ancient Mesopotamians. In this lesson, we're going to look at how these earliest states in Mesopotamia organized their societies into sharply stratified, multi-layered communities.

A Ziggurat

The Top

Of course, at the top of our social ziggurat is the king and the royal family. However, it's really important to remember that these states were relatively small. Most of them could fit inside an area of a few hundred square miles. That means that while the royal family was at the top, it wasn't that far removed from the next level of society.

That level was comprised of the nobility of the Mesopotamian world, namely the priests and the military commanders. With such small warring states, it's pretty obvious why military commanders got so much respect. Their skills were constantly in need in order to protect the boundaries of the state. As we will see soon, that protection was in everyone's best interest. The priests, on the other hand, were equally important. Not only were they able to interpret signs from the heavens, but they were also the most literate members of society. As such, often priests played an important administrative role.

The Middle Class

Moving down the social ziggurat, we find the middle class. This was a widely ranging group of people. At one end of the class, you would find merchants whose wealth rivaled that of priests and successful generals. At the other end, you'd find modest artisans who scraped out a living little better than the lower class. Regardless, this social class did not play as important of a role in the matters of state as the class above it, but they did have valuable skills. One of the most valuable skills that some members of this class had was writing in cuneiform, the wedge-shaped lettering of many Mesopotamian languages.

A Sumerian Clay Tablet

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