Through constant toil and imagination, the Sumerians transformed the swamps into fields of barley and groves of date palms. Around 3000 B.C., their hut settlements gradually evolved into twelve independent city-states, each consisting of a city and its surrounding countryside. Among the impressive achievements of the Sumerians were a system of symbol writing on clay tablets (cune¬iform) to represent ideas; elaborate brick houses, palaces, and temples; bronze tools and weapons; irrigation works; trade with other peoples; an early form of money; religious and political institutions; schools; religious and secular literature; varied art forms; codes of law; medicinal drugs; and a lunar calendar.
Although they spoke a common language and shared the same customs and gods, the Sumerian city-states engaged in frequent warfare with each other, principally over boundaries and water rights—canals built upriver reduced the water available to the cities downriver. Weakened by warfare, the Sumerians lay open to foreign domi-nation.
The history of Mesopotamia is marked by a succession of conquests. To the north of Sumer was a Semitic city called Akkad. About 2350 B.C., the people of Akkad, led by Sargon the Great, the warrior-king, conquered the Sumerian cities. Sargon built the world’s first empire, which extended from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. The Akkadians adopted Sumerian cultural forms and spread them beyond the boundaries of Mesopotamia with their con¬quests. Mesopotamian religion became a blend of Sumerian and Akkadian elements.
In succeeding centuries, the Sumerian cities were incorporated into various kingdoms and empires. The Sumerian language, replaced by a Semitic tongue, became an obscure language known only to priests, and the Sumerians gradu¬ally disappeared as a distinct people. But their cultural achievements endured. Akkadians, Baby¬lonians, Elamites, and others adopted Sumerian religious, legal, literary, and art forms. The Sumerian legacy served as the basis for a Mesopotamian civilization that maintained a dis¬tinct style for three thousand years.
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