The story

Society in Mesopotamia


Daily life in Mesopotamia

Slaves and people of humbler conditions led the same kind of life. The food was very simple: barley bread, a handful of dates and some light beer. That was the basis of the daily menu. Sometimes they ate vegetables, lentils, beans and cucumbers, or even some fish caught in rivers or canals. Meat was a rare food.

In housing, the same simplicity. Sometimes the house was a simple cube of raw brick covered with clay. The roof was flat and made of palm tree trunks and compressed clay. This type of roof had the disadvantage of letting water pass through the most torrential rains, but in normal times was used as a terrace.

The houses had no windows and at night were lit by sesame oil lamps. Insects abounded in the dwellings.

The rich ate better and lived in more comfortable homes than the poor. Even so, when epidemics struck cities, mortality was the same across all social strata.

The religion

The Mesopotamian peoples were polytheistic, that is, they worshiped various deities, and believed that they were capable of doing both good and evil, did not believe in rewards after death, believed in belief in geniuses, demons, heroes, divinations and magic. Their gods were numerous with qualities and defects, feelings and passions, immortal, despotic and bloodthirsty.

Each deity was a force of nature such as wind, water, earth, sun, etc., and the owner of his city. Marduk, god of Babylon, the head of all, became god of the empire during the reign of Hammurabi. It was replaced by Assur during the rule of the Assyrians. He returned to the post with Nebuchadnezzar.

They also believed in good geniuses who helped the gods defend themselves against demons, against wicked deities, against disease, against death. Men sought to know the will of the gods manifested in dreams, eclipses, movement of the stars. These observations made by the priests gave rise to astrology.

Politics and economics

The Mesopotamian political organization had a deified sovereign, assisted by priest-bureaucrats, who administered the land distribution, the irrigation system, and the waterworks. The financial system was in charge of a temple, which functioned as a true bank, lending seeds, distributing a document similar to the modern bank check, and charging interest on the borrowed seeds.

Generally speaking it can be said that the predominant form of production in Mesopotamia was based on the collective ownership of land administered by temples and palaces. Individuals only enjoyed the land as members of these communities. Almost all means of production are believed to be under the control of the despot, personifications of the state, and of temples. The temple was the center that received all the production, distributing it according to the needs, besides owning much of the land: it is called the temple city.

Administered by a corporation of priests, the lands, which theoretically belonged to the gods, were given to the peasants. Each family received a plot of land and was to give the temple a portion of the harvest as payment for the useful use of the land. Private properties, on the other hand, were cultivated by employees or tenants.

Among the Sumerians was slavery, but the number of slaves was relatively small.

Agriculture

Agriculture was the basis of the economy in this period. The economy of Lower Mesopotamia in the middle of the third millennium BC was based on irrigation agriculture. They grew wheat, barley, flax, sesame (sesame, from where they extracted oil for food and lighting), fruit trees, roots and vegetables. The working tools were rudimentary, usually of stone, wood and clay. Bronze was introduced in the second half of the third millennium BC, but the true revolution occurred with its use, as early as the second millennium before the Christian Era. They used the plow, the harrow, and the wheel carts;

The breeding of animals

Rearing sheep, donkeys, oxen, geese and ducks was well developed.

The trade

The merchants were servants in the service of the temples and the palace. Nevertheless, they could do business on their own. The geographical situation and the poverty of raw materials favored the commercial enterprises. The merchant caravans were going to sell their goods and pick up ivory from India, timber from Lebanon, copper from Cyprus, and tin from the Caucasus. They exported linen, wool and rugs, as well as precious stones and perfumes.

Commercial transactions were made on the basis of exchange, creating a pattern of exchange initially represented by barley and then by metals circulating in various forms, but never reaching the form of currency. The existence of a very intense trade gave rise to a solid economy organization, which carried out operations such as interest rate loans, brokerage and business corporations. They used receipts, deeds, and letters of credit.

Trade was an important figure in Mesopotamian society, and the strengthening of the mercantile group brought about significant changes that eventually influenced the disintegration of the dominant Templar-palatial form of production in Mesopotamia.

The sciences the astronomy

Among the Babylonians, it was the main science. Notable were the knowledge of the priests in the field of astronomy, closely linked and even subordinate to astrology. The towers of the temples served as astronomical observatories. They knew the differences between the planets and the stars and could predict lunar and solar eclipses. They divided the year into months, months into weeks, weeks into seven days, days into twelve hours, hours into sixty minutes, and minutes into sixty seconds. The elements of astronomy elaborated by the Mesopotamians were the basis of the astronomy of the Greeks, the Arabs and gave rise to the astronomy of the Europeans.