Ancient Mesopotamia is a seventh gradeWorld History/World Geography unit designed to be used by both students and teachers. It is designed in such a way that it can be used by students as an educational resource supplementary to the traditional social studies textbook, or it can be used by teachers in order to attain important vocabulary terms, vocabulary exercises, a study guide, an example quiz, hands-on activities, and final unit evaluations.
This area is for students to explore the many different aspects of ancient Mespotamia. Check out each area, or explore only those areas that interest you. Have fun!
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THE SUMERIAN CITY-STATE
HAMMURABI OF BABYLON
This area is designed for teachers. In this area, teachers not only can explore the different aspects of ancient Mesopotamia as located in the student area, but they can also view teacher-created materials that I use when teaching ancient Mesopotamia to my seventh grade students. In this area, I have included a vocabulary list, vocabulary exercises to reinforce the terms and definitions, a study guide, an example quiz, hands-on activities that can be used in the classroom, and final unit evaluations.
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In ancient times, the Greeks later called the area of the world's first civilization "Mesopotamia" which means "the land between the rivers" or "the land between two rivers." This name was appropriate because ancient Mesopotamia was located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the present-day Middle Eastern country of Iraq. The twin rivers actually begin in eastern Turkey, flow southeast, converge in southeast Iraq, and empty into the Persian Gulf. Although the hot dry climate mixed with seasonal flooding was difficult and challenging, the farmers of the area learned to control the flooding rivers and used the resulting fertility to produce crops such as barley, wheat, flax, and sesame. The fertile ground also supported many different kinds of fruit and vegetable crops.
The people who established the world's first civilization around 3500 B.C. in southern Mesopotamia were known as the Sumerians.
The Sumerians learned to control the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers by constructing levees and irrigation canals. As a result, a stable food supply existed, and the Sumerian villages evolved into self-governing city-states.
At the center of each city-state was a temple surrounded by courts and public buildings. Radiating from the all-important city center were the two-story houses of the priests and merchants, or the upper class; the one-story homes of government officials, shopkeepers, and craftspeople; and the lower class homes of farmers, unskilled workers, and fishermen. The city-state also included the fertile farming land outside the city wall.
Since there wasn't any building stone and very little timber in Sumer, the people constructed their homes, public buildings, and city walls out of sun-dried mud brick.
The Sumerians took great pride in their city-states. Many times city-states would war with each other because boundary disputes existed. Sometimes a city-state would attack a neighboring city-state just to prove its strength.
Originally the temples at the center of each city-state were built on a platform. As time passed, these platform temples evolved into temple-towers called ziggurats. The ziggurat was the first major building structure of the Sumerians. Constructed of sun-baked mud bricks, the ziggurats were usually colorfully decorated with glazed fired bricks.
The ziggurat housed each city-state's patron god or goddess. Only priests were permitted inside the ziggurat; as a result, they were very powerful members of Sumerian society.
As the Sumerian city-states' wealth increased, government officials realized that an efficient method of keeping records had to be developed. Evolved from simple pictographic writing, Sumerian cuneiform emerged as the world's first writing system. The term cuneiform means "wedge-shaped." It was made up of hundreds of word signs that were "wedge-shaped" due to the shape of the reed pen, or stylus, that was used. The Sumerians wrote on clay tablets that would either be dried in the sun or fired in kilns to make the writing permanent.
Cuneiform was learned in Sumerian schools called edubbas, or tablet houses. Only a select group of boys were able to attend Sumerian schools. The boys were usually sons of the very wealthy.
Students worked very hard at Sumerian schools, and the school day lasted from early morning until evening. Students were taught reading, writing, and arithmetic. The teachers severely disciplined the students. For example, a mistake on a clay tablet could merit a beating.
All the sacrifice and schooling was worth it. Once a student successfully completed twelve years of schooling, he was an official scribe, or writer. This was a prestigious position in Sumerian society. Scribes were very valuable in order to the maintain and improve the record keeping that the Sumerians deemed so very necessary.
The Sumerians also used cylinder seals. Cylinder seals were carved out of stone, and they were used as identification. For example, in order to identify himself, a Sumerian would roll his cylinder seal across a wet clay tablet. This would make an imprint on the tablet that would become permanent by sun-baking or kiln-firing. Cylinder seals were used as signatures are used today.
As stated before, in early Sumerian history, priests were also the kings of the city-states. Gilgamesh was one of the most heroic priest-kings of this time. He was the priest-king of Uruk which was located on the Euphrates River approximately fifty miles northwest of Ur.
The oldest written story in the world delineates Gilgamesh's legendary deeds. In the story, Gilgamesh is characterized as being both human and divine. Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu travel the world performing heroic acts.
As stated in the vocabulary section, Sargon I was from Akkad located in the northern reaches of Mesopotamia. When the power of the Sumerian city-states began to collapse due to their constant battling, Sargon I capitalized upon the opportunity and attacked the southern region of Mesopotamia with his armies.
After conquering all the Sumerian city-states, Sargon I united them with Akkad, and created the world's first empire. His empire included all of Mesopotamia. Akkadian was the official language, but they used Sumerian cuneiform to write their language.
Sargon I ruled the Mesopotamia region for approximately fifty years. When he died, the empire crumbled. The individual city-states again rose to power.
About 1800 B.C., the Amorites migrated to Mesopotamia and constructed their own city-states. One of the city-states built was named Babylon, and it was ruled by a king named Hammurabi. As Hammurabi rose to power, he began conquering the city-states of Mesopotamia.
He,too, began uniting the city-states, but he was much more successful than Sargon I because he made many new reforms that improved society. For example, he improved the irrigation system, tax system, and government housing system. He also united the people under one religion, but the reform for which Hammurabi became renowned was his code of law.
Hammurabi provided uniformity among the city-states by enacting a code of law. The code of law provided consistent justice and covered many aspects of daily life.
Hammurabi of Babylon was a great ruler; the time he reigned is often referred to as the "Golden Age of Babylon" due to the many accomplishments and reforms.
An original stone carving depicting Hammarabi's receipt of the code of laws.
The contributions affecting the modern world from our ancient ancestors in Mesopotamia are numerous. The ancient Sumerians created the world's first civilization where people settled together in one area known as the city-state. For this accomplishment, ancient Mesopotamia is often referred to as the "cradle of civilization."
Another contribution vastly affecting the modern era was the Sumerians' creation of a writing system. Although we do not use the same writing system today, it spawned the many different writing models that led to today's writing.
Other inventions include the water clock, the twelve-month calendar based on lunar cycles, the wheel, the plow, and the sailboat. All these inventions improved the daily life of the Sumerians.
In order to reinforce vocabulary terms and definitions, I use the following vocabulary exercises:
SAME/DIFFERENT ASSOCIATIONS - Read each pair of words. If the terms are related, place a (S) on the blank line. If the terms are unrelated, place a (D) on the blank line.
+/- ASSOCIATIONS - Read each pair of words. If the terms are related, place a (+) on the blank line. If the terms are unrelated, place a (-) on the blank line.
CLOSE-ENDED SORTS - Read each group of words, draw a line through the word that does not belong in the group.
WORD MAPS - Choose five vocabulary terms and diagram the terms according to the model.
CATEGORY SORTS - Group the following terms into the appropriate categories: EDUCATION, RELIGION, and EMPIRES.
TERMS: Sargon I, ziggurat, priest, Gilgamesh, scribe, Akkad, armies, Hammurabi, edubba, cuneiform, god, stylus.
ANALOGIES - Circle the term that best completes the analogy.
EGYPT : NILE : : WESTERN MESOPOTAMIA : (Indus, Tigris, or Euphrates)
In order to reinforce basic concepts of ancient Mesopotamia, I use a study guide. I usually provide page and paragraph numbers before each question to assist the student in locating the correct answer. Higher order questioning skills are used when discussing the study guide as a class.
In order to reinforce content learning, I use quizzes to evaluate student knowledge.
SAME/DIFFERENT ASSOCIATIONS - Print a (S) on the blank line if the terms are related. Print a (D) on the blank line if the terms are unrelated.
CLOSE-ENDED SORTS. Draw a line through the term that does not belong to the group.
MULTIPLE CHOICE - Read each statement carefully. Decide what answer best completes the statement. Circle the letter of the correct answer.
ANALOGIES - Circle the term that best completes the analogy.
I often use hands-on activities in the classroom to make the content more meaningful and to reach all the different types of learning styles of my students. Beforehand, I will create a direction sheet and scoring rubric before presenting the activity to the class. I will present the activity, explain the scoring rubric, model and demonstrate how to successfully complete the activity, and provide concrete examples of finished products which usually are student-made from previous years.
Below is a sample list of activities that I have used while teaching the Mesopotamia unit. A brief description of each activity is also included.
In lieu of traditional chapter tests, I try to design alternative ways to assess student knowledge. A scoring rubric is always presented to the students when explaining the evaluation so they know how to successfully complete the evaluation.