Class 11 History

Writing and City Life

A Trading Town

The royal capital of Mari flourished after 2000 BCE. Mari is situated much further upstream on the Euphrates; rather than on the fertile southern plain. Some communities in the kingdom of Mari had both farmers and pastoralists. Most of its territory was used for pasturing sheep and goats. Exchange of materials was the norm between herders and farmers. But access or denial of access to water resources often led to conflict between herders and farmers. Nomadic communities of the western desert often came to the prosperous agricultural heartland. Some of them also worked as harvest laborers or hired soldiers. Some of them became prosperous and settled down. A few gained power to establish their own rule. Akkadians, Amorites, Assyrians and Aramaeans were examples of such herders.

Kings of Mari: The kings of Mari were Amorites whose dress differed from that of the original inhabitants. They respected not only the gods of Mesopotamia but also raised a temple at Mari for Dagan, god of the steppe. Mesopotamian society and culture were thus open to different people and cultures. This intermixture of different cultures catalyzed the vitality of the civilization. However, the kings of Mari used to be vigilant for any suspicious activity by the herders of various tribes.

Mari is a good example of an urban centre prospering on trade. It is located between the south and the mineral rich uplands of Turkey, Syria and Lebanon; a prime position for trade. Boats carrying various items of trade would stop at Mari on their way to the southern cities. Officers would go aboard, inspect the cargo and levy a charge of about one-tenth the value of the goods; before allowing the boat to continue downstream. In spite of not being militarily strong, Mari was exceptionally prosperous because of trade.

Cities in Mesopotamian Culture

Mesopotamians valued city life. After cities were destroyed in war, they recalled them in poetry. Such an example can be found at the end of the Gilgamesh Epic. It was written on twelve tablets.

Gilgamesh is said to have ruled the city of Uru sometime after Enmerkar. He was a great hero. He got a shock when his heroic friend died. After that, he set out to find the secret of immortality. He crossed the waters that surround the world. After a heroic attempt, Gilgamesh failed, and returned to Uruk. In order to console himself, he walked along the city walk; back and forth. While doing so, he takes consolation by admiring the people who helped in building a great city. He does not talk about his sons nor about his family.

The Legacy of Writing

The greatest legacy of Mesopotamia to the world is perhaps its scholarly tradition of time reckoning and mathematics. Tablets with multiplication and division tables, square and square-root tables, and tables of compound interest are found; dating around 1800 BCE. The division of year into 12 months, the division of the month into four weeks, the day into 24 hours and the hour into 60 minutes; has come to use from the Mesopotamians. These time divisions were adopted by the successors of Alexander. From there it was transmitted to the Roman world, then to the world of Islam, and then to medieval Europe. All of this could be possible only because of the tradition of writing.