/sooh"meuhr/, n.
an ancient region in southern Mesopotamia that contained a number of independent cities and city-states of which the first were established possibly as early as 5000 B.C.: conquered by the Elamites and, about 2000 B.C., by the Babylonians; a number of its cities, as Ur, Uruk, Kish, and Lagash, are major archaeological sites in southern Iraq.

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Region of southern Mesopotamia and site of the earliest known civilization.

It was first settled с 4500–4000 BC by a non-Semitic people called the Ubaidians. They were the first civilizing force in Sumer, draining the marshes for agriculture and developing trade. The Sumerians, who spoke a Semitic language that came to dominate the region, arrived с 3300 BC and established the world's first known cities. These polities evolved into city-states, which eventually developed monarchical systems that later came to be loosely united under a single city, beginning with Kish с 2800 BC. Thereafter, Kish, Erech, Ur, Nippur, and Lagash vied for ascendancy for centuries. The area came under the control of dynasties from outside the region, beginning with Elam (с 2530–2450 BC) and later Akkad, led by the Akkadian king Sargon (r. 2334–2279 BC). After the Akkadian dynasty collapsed, the city-states were largely independent until they were reunified under the 3rd dynasty of Ur (21st–20th centuries BC). That final Sumerian dynasty declined after being weakened by foreign invasions, and the Sumerians as a distinct political entity disappeared, becoming part of the Babylonia in the 18th century BC. The Sumerian legacy includes a number of technological and cultural innovations, including the first known wheeled vehicles, the potter's wheel, a system of writing (see cuneiform), and written codes of law.

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▪ ancient region, Iraq
 site of the earliest known civilization, located in the southernmost part of Mesopotamia between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, in the area that later became Babylonia and is now southern Iraq from around Baghdad to the Persian Gulf.

      A brief treatment of Sumerian civilization follows. For full treatment, see Mesopotamia, history of: Sumerian civilization (Mesopotamia, history of).

 Sumer was first settled between 4500 and 4000 BC by a non-Semitic people who did not speak the Sumerian language. These people now are called proto-Euphrateans or Ubaidians, for the village Al-Ubaid, where their remains were first discovered. The Ubaidians were the first civilizing force in Sumer, draining the marshes for agriculture, developing trade, and establishing industries, including weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, masonry, and pottery. After the Ubaidian immigration to Mesopotamia, various Semitic peoples infiltrated their territory, adding their cultures to the Ubaidian culture, and creating a high pre-Sumerian civilization.

      The people called Sumerians, whose language became the prevailing language of the territory, probably came from around Anatolia, arriving in Sumer about 3300 BC. By the 3rd millennium BC the country was the site of at least 12 separate city-states: Kish, Erech, Ur, Sippar, Akshak, Larak, Nippur, Adab, Umma, Lagash, Bad-tibira, and Larsa. Each of these states comprised a walled city and its surrounding villages and land, and each worshiped its own deity, whose temple was the central structure of the city. Political power originally belonged to the citizens, but, as rivalry between the various city-states increased, each adopted the institution of kingship (king). An extant document, The Sumerian King List, records that eight kings reigned before the great Flood.

      After the Flood, various city-states and their dynasties of kings temporarily gained power over the others. The first king to unite the separate city-states was Etana, ruler of Kish (c. 2800 BC). Thereafter, Kish, Erech, Ur, and Lagash vied for ascendancy for hundreds of years, rendering Sumer vulnerable to external conquerors, first the Elamites (Elam) (c. 2530–2450 BC) and later the Akkadians, led by their king Sargon (reigned 2334–2279 BC). Although Sargon's dynasty lasted only about 100 years, it united the city-states and created a model of government that influenced all of Middle Eastern civilization.

      After Sargon's dynasty ended and Sumer recovered from a devastating invasion by the semibarbaric Gutians (Guti), the city-states once again became independent. The high point of this final era of Sumerian civilization was the reign of the 3rd dynasty of Ur, whose first king, Ur-Nammu, published the earliest law code yet discovered in Mesopotamia.

      After 1900 BC, when the Amorites (Amorite) conquered all of Mesopotamia, the Sumerians lost their separate identity, but they bequeathed their culture to their Semitic successors, and they left the world a number of technological and cultural contributions, including the first wheeled vehicles and potter's wheels; the first system of writing, cuneiform; the first codes of law; and the first city-states.

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Universalium. 2010.

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