Study Guide: Mesopotamia

This guide should help you prepare for your first test in Cities. The PowerPoint I used in class is posted here – you may wish to use it to help refresh your memory of class discussions and to augment your own notes. Ultimately, assessments let me see how well you fuse class discussion with reading, how well you understand the big picture concepts, and how well you make use of historical facts in support of understanding the big picture.

Ok – so first order of business before your test: DO NOT PANIC and DO NOT GIVE UP. I am not trying to slam you or trick you with tests, but rather to get you to assemble information and make something of it all. So the more serious thought you give to the themes we’ve discussed, the better prepared you will be for sitting a test. NO ONE NEED FAIL THIS TEST if you follow my advice and prepare properly. And it’s not too late to prepare. So…

Here is a good video to follow up our discussion of the importance of irrigation for the development of civilization. YES, please watch (after minute 2:20), as it will give you an idea of how Sumerian civilization came together c.3500 BCE. You will also see a great example of how reeds are still used by the marsh Arabs who live south of BASRA.

A good way to go about review this week is to organize the main elements of your notes into 3 categories: 1) concepts/terms, 2) cities 3) people & gods   The lists will provide you, with a quick glance, the relevant information that you will be asked to use on the upcoming test. Just the simple act of creating the list helps the information sink into different areas of your brain, and you are much better able to recall information that is organized. Believe me, this will seriously help you prepare. For example:

Terms: animism, ziggurat, metallurgy, cosmology, etc.

Cities: Mosul, Ur, Babylon, etc.

People/gods: Apsu, Gilgamesh, Patraeus, Tiamat etc

For this test you will be allowed to prepare a single sheet (one side only) of notes that you may bring with you and use during the test. I urge you to make your own rather than relying upon something someone else put together. A ‘test guide’ is about information organized in a way that works for you.

We should all make an effort to make our thinking more sophisticated. Organizing your information is extremely important if you wish to become a more serious thinker. When studying history, you must not only digest a certain amount of factual information, but you should also get in the habit of applying that information.There is a reason that I list questions before each reading – GET IN THE HABIT OF ANSWERING THEM (even if only in your head) AFTER READING! Look back at the questions posed in the readings.

Most tests will have a mixed format. Here are the types of questions you may encounter:

short response:  simply answer the question or complete the sentence. Some examples:

  • Religious leaders emerged in Sumer because they could do what effectively?
  • What does Enuma Elis mean?
  • Why does bread and beer appear prominently in Sumerian texts?

Chronology: Clio’s right eye! Things happen in time. While as yet we do not have a large number of dates, you should be able to arrange given events in proper chronological order. For example, it’s important to know that Gilgamesh and the new Sumerian kings appear AFTER the Great Flood. Some things that could appear include:

  • Sargon’s reign
  • The Great Flood
  • The Amorite (Babylonian) invasion into Mesopotamia
  • The Neolithic Revolution

Geography: Clio’s left eye! Things happen in space.  you should know some basic historical information concerning the individual cities and regions we’ve talked/read about. Some examples:

  • The earliest copy of the Enuma Elis was discovered in the ruins of what city?
  • The northern approaches to Baghdad (and Babylon) were protected by this fortified city?
  • The 101st Airborne seized what northern Iraqi city in 2003 by the longest helicopter air assault in history?
  • What modern city is situated where the great Tigris and Euphrates Delta began, where the ‘waters mingled together’?
  • Lamu and Lahamu, ‘the Muddy Ones’, are associated now with which modern Persian Gulf nation?
  • C. Leonard Woolley excavated the tombs of which great Sumerian city?

Conceptual Terms: there are some abstract concepts that you should be comfortable explaining and/or applying. For example could you explain the following and provide specific examples from Sumer of each?

  • Animism
  • Fatalism
  • Civilization

Document Interpretation: you should be prepared to answer questions about Gilgamesh and the Enuma Elis.

  • You should know the main gods.
  • You should know the main plot of the story.
  • You should understand how the Enuma Elis explains both cosmology and cosmogony.
  • How is the Enuma Elis a political document? That is, what was changed in order to fit the new political situation in Mesopotamia c.2000 BC?

Some questions to consider when reading Gilgamesh:

  • What is the story telling us about the difference between savage and civilized? (What is done to Enkidu? What things are associated with civilized living?)
  • What insight does the story provide into Sumerian cosmology – that is, what can we learn about how they saw themselves in relation to the universe?
  • How does the Utanapishtim story relate to the founding of civilization in Sumer, that is, in the region south of the Fertile Cresent?

The Big Picture: for every unit there will be certain questions that address larger historical issues. Some examples for this unit include:

  • How did geography affect the historical development Sumer? That is, explain how Sumerian culture and government might be related to the specific type of geography of the region.
  • What does the Enuma Elis tell us about the Babylonians?
  • Why does understanding the historical context of the Enuma Elis enhance our understanding of the story?

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Inferences and Assumptions. What can you infer from the evidence left by the Sumerians?  (You might see some artifact on the test and be asked to explain what it tells us) What assumptions did the ancient Sumerians have about their world and how did these affect historical development?


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