Thursday, 24 September 2009

The decline of the great civilisation of Sumer

You came from the north 7000 years ago and settled between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. With little rain the land was hard to farm but you found a way: you built massive levees to collect water in spring and store it for the autumn planting. Your work transformed the desert into an oasis. You were the first people in history who could count on a surplus.

You built magnificent cities, filling the plain. Your civilisation was stable and creative. You made breathtaking advances in science and technology; in writing and mathematics; loving above all else the music of the lyre.

But it was the intensity of your culture that was its undoing. The land needed to rest, but there were too many mouths to feed. The soil became water-logged, drawing salts to the surface, made worse by summer evaporation. After 2000 years of slowly declining yields, you wrote how finally the ‘earth turned white’.

And then, when you were at your weakest, the conquerors came. First Sargon of Akkad, then the Gutians, followed by the Elamaites and the Amorites; until all that was left was dust. Raised mounds where cities once stood. And buried within them, clay tablets inscribed in a language long dead, a last echo of great times gone.