Settlements had begun to develop in southern Mesopotamia from 5000 BCE. The earliest cities developed from these settlements. Some of the cities developed around temples, some developed as centres of trade, and some developed as imperial cities.
Temple Towns: The earliest known temple was a small shrine made of unbaked bricks. In due course of time, temples became larger. They had several rooms around open courtyards. Temples always had their outer walls going in and out at regular intervals. This feature was absent in ordinary houses.
People brought grains, curd and fish to the god. The god was considered the theoretical owner of the agricultural fields, the fisheries, and the herds of the local community. In due course of time, the processing of produce was also done in the temple, e.g. oil pressing, grain grinding, spinning, etc. Temple became the organizer of production at a level above the household, employer of merchants and keeper of written records of distributions and allotments of various items. Thus, temple gradually developed the scope of its activities and became the main urban institution.
Agriculture was subject to natural hazards. Floods or drought often forced people to shift from one place to another. People often resorted to wars to settle disputes related to land and water. Chiefs who had been successful in war could oblige their followers by distributing their loot. War prisoners were employed as guards and servants. A time came when such leadership came to increase the well being of the community. Victorious chiefs started to offer precious booty to the gods. It helped in beautifying the community’s temples. There was a mutually reinforcing cycle of development. Settlement of villagers close to the leaders ensured a quick built of army in times of need. On the other hand, people would be safe living in close proximity to one another.
It was one of the earliest temple towns. Around 3000 BCE, Uruk grew to enormous extent of 250 hectares. Dozens of small villages were deserted during that period; which shows a major population shift towards Uruk. The city also had a defensive wall. The site was continuously occupied from about 4200 BCE to about 400 BCE. War captives and local people were put to work for the temple, or directly for the ruler. This, rather than agricultural tax, was compulsory. People got rations in lieu of their work.
Uruk also witnessed technical advances around 3000 BCE. Bronze tools came into use. Lack of suitable wood to bear the weight of the roof of large halls motivated the architects to learn to construct brick columns. There were superb achievements in sculpture; which were made of imported stone. The potter wheel was the technological landmark for the urban economy. Potter wheel enabled a potter to ‘mass produce’ pots in less time.
The ruling elite had emerged. A small section of society had the major share of wealth. This is evident by enormous riches buried with some kings and queens at Ur. The nuclear family was the norm. The father was the head of the family. There is little information about the process of marriage. A declaration was made about the willingness to marry. Bride’s parents gave their consent to the marriage. This was followed by the groom’s people giving gift to the bride’s people. During wedding, gifts were exchanged by both sides. When her mother-in-law came to fetch her, the bride was given her share of the inheritance by her father. The father’s house, herds, fields, etc., were inherited by the sons.
Unplanned Development of Town: The town had narrow winding streets. House plots were of irregular shapes. This shows that there was lack of town planning. There were no street drains. Drains and clay pipes were in the inner courtyards. People perhaps channeled rainwater via the drainpipes into the sumps in the inner courtyards. This was probably done to prevent the unpaved streets from becoming excessively slushy after a downpour.
People perhaps swept all their household refuse into the streets, to be trodden underfoot. As a result, street levels rose; needing a raise in the threshold of houses to prevent mud flowing inside after the rains. Windows were absent in the houses; to give privacy to the families.
There was a town cemetery, in which the graves of royalty and commoners have been found. A few individuals were found buried under the floors of ordinary houses.
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