Neo-Sumerian Period: Lifestyle, Peace & Prosperity

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  • 0:02 Neo-Sumerian Period
  • 0:34 Background
  • 2:00 Restoring Order
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the Neo-Sumerian Period, a relatively short period in Sumerian history but one of immense economic and cultural growth and prosperity.

Neo-Sumerian Period

When I ask you what was America's 'Golden Age,' what do you think of? Perhaps you think of the Roaring 1920s and the relaxing norms of the era, or perhaps you think of the swinging 1960s and the age of free love and fantastic rock music. Whatever period you choose, you likely look upon it fondly as either an economic or cultural age of prosperity and growth. Well, it's not just in U.S. history that historians like to recognize trends and categorize ages. In ancient Mesopotamia, for example, the Neo-Sumerian period is considered a 'Golden Age' of that civilization's history.


So, exactly who, what, and where are we talking about here? The Neo-Sumerian period refers to a period of the history of ancient Mesopotamia, specifically after the settlement of the Sumerians in Southern Mesopotamia. Sumerians likely settled in Mesopotamia sometime around 5000 B.C. Sumerian civilization grew upon the agricultural practices that humankind had been perfecting for a few millennia, and complex irrigation systems watered the fields that fed the cities that grew throughout the region. These cities developed their own politics, and sometime during the 4th millennium, the city-states began to be ruled by kings who dominated the city and the surrounding agricultural land.

For a period of approximately 600 to 900 years, these city-states expanded and made war with one another, with one dominating the region before waning and being replaced by another, more powerful city-state. Around 2300 B.C., this turnover was ended by King Sargon of Akkad, who instituted the Akkadian Empire. The power and scope of the Akkadian Empire eclipsed anything the previous city-states had managed to create. Despite the strength of the initial Akkadian Empire, it only ruled for roughly 100 to 150 years before the Empire was smashed by invaders from the east, the Gutians. The Gutians preferred looting and destroying Sumerian cities rather than ruling them, and most Mesopotamian writers lamented the period as one of the darkest in Sumerian history.

Restoring Order

Considering this, it should come as little surprise that the following period is generally considered one of rebirth and optimism. The Gutians were defeated by Ur-Nammu, later the King of Ur, who fought the Gutians across Sumer with allies from Lagash for nearly 20 years. After Ur-Nammu subsequently quelled his rivals in Lagash, he instituted the Third Dynasty of Ur, beginning what historians today call the Neo-Sumerian period. Ur-Nammu and his descendants reigned for about 150 to 200 years before the dynasty's decline.

Historians still debate the exact reason for the decline of the Third Dynasty of Ur, but the dynasty was likely undermined by Amorite migration into Sumer during the later generations of the period. In fact, Amorite encroachment upon Sumerian land was such a problem that during the reign of Shulgi, the Sumerians constructed an enormous wall, roughly 150 miles in length, to keep the Amorites out. Their attempts failed, and later, sometime in the 20th century B.C., the Elamites invaded and sacked the capital city of Ur. After the fall of Ur, the Amorites largely occupied Sumerian territory, and the end of the Neo-Sumerian period is generally considered the end of the Sumerian domination of Mesopotamia.

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