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Religions of Sumer and Akkad: Definition & History

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  • 0:01 Sumerian Civilization
  • 0:32 City-States
  • 1:13 Ziggurats & Pantheon
  • 2:40 Afterlife
  • 3:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explore the religion of ancient Sumer and its Akkadian empire. In doing this, it will highlight the Sumerian pantheon, their ziggurats, and their belief in the afterlife.

Sumerian Civilization

Engulfing the Southern areas of ancient Mesopotamia, known today as Iran and Iraq, Sumer and its Akkadian Empire is often referred to as the world's first real civilization. Lucky for lovers of history and religion, time has allowed aspects of this culture to survive through Sumerian art and even the Sumerian script known as cuneiform. With these treasures, we are able to gain a glimpse into the ancient lives and religion of Sumer and its people.

City-States

According to what scientist have been able to piece together from the ancient ruins of Sumer, the civilization was made up of city-states in which each city was autonomous with its own deities and temples - the most famous of these city-states being the well-known Ur.

Adding to this autonomy, each city-state usually had its own priest-king, or ruler with both secular and sacred authority. Many times this authority was absolute. However, even after the role of priest and king began to split and secular rulers came to power, the Sumerian priests still held a huge amount of authority.

Ziggurats & Pantheon

As far as archaeology has been able to uncover, it seems that each city-state housed a temple. The remains of these massive Sumerian temples, known as ziggurats, can still be seen across the region of Mesopotamia.

To the ancients of Sumer, these temples existed to house their deities. Along with the priests of the faith, singers, slaves and even prostitutes worked within the temples as public rituals and sacrifices took place daily.

As with most ancient religions, the Sumerians believed humans existed to please and serve the gods. The Sumerian pantheon, or gods of the culture, usually took on an Anthropomorphic, or human form. Although they were vast in number, each held to a divine myth of sorts known as the Me. The Me acted like a set of rules to keep the world functioning properly.

Within this set of divine rules, Sumer's gods held many human traits. Some were believed to be wives, offspring, or even slaves of the more important, powerful gods. Like human families, these divine families had their share of quarrels and squabbles to deal with. In the end, the more important deities usually had the last say.

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