What Was The Social Organization Of Mesopotamia Like?

The social organization of Mesopotamia  was established by ranks and hierarchies. These hierarchical ranks were quite marked: the highest position was held by the king, while the lowest was made up of the slaves of the time.

In turn, between kings and slaves were people with an intermediate class, among whom were priests, peasants and artisans.

Hammurabi, Babylonian king. Source: Mbmrock / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

The fundamental basis for establishing social organization was the family. This is because the classes were completely hereditary.

King’s power could only be reached if he inherited it. The same was true of the other classes. 
This social organization varied over a period; this variation was mainly among the classes of higher rank and power.

It occurred above all among free men, the clergy, and the nobility; these groups alternated positions in the government.

Main social classes of Mesopotamia

1- Kings, princes and their families

The kings were those who had the highest hierarchical position and authority in society. They acquired their power in a hereditary way, it was also divine in character.

However, the kings were not considered gods of the time, they were considered as intermediaries between gods and their believers. The kings were advised by the priests, the latter were the most reliable.

Among their functions, the kings had absolute command of the legislative power, the judiciary and the executive. 

The king was characterized by being the supreme judge and first military commander. It should be noted that they were in charge of controlling the waters and crops of the entire territory.

Most prominent kings and principals

– Gilgameš (2650 BC). Fifth King of the city of Uruk.

– Sargon I of Acadia (2335 – 2279 BC). Founder of the Akkadian Empire.

– Naram-Sin (2254 – 2279 BC). Fourth king of the Akkadian Empire. During his rule, Acad reached its greatest splendor.

– Hammurabi (1792 – 1752 BC). Sixth king of Babylon and founder of the Pale-Babylonian Empire.

– Nebuchadnezzar II (654 – 562 BC). King of Babylon known to appear in the Bible. During his rule he conquered Jerusalem and built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

2- Leading class or nobility

Ancient Mesopotamian or Iranian ruler, 2300-2000 BC.
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York / CC0

This division was made up of priests, military chiefs, landowners, and merchants. In this classification was the upper class stratum.

The priests worked in the town as healers and fortune-tellers. The priests closest to the king were in charge of advising him on decisions of the utmost importance.

Those belonging to the ruling group held administrative positions below the king. It is important to emphasize that the merchants had a fundamental role, since they obtained their wealth thanks to the exchange.

3- Free men

Hero dominating a lion. Sargon II’s Palace in Khorsabad (Dur Sharrukin). 713–706 a. C.

This category was made up of all those peasants, ranchers, farmers and artisans.

These last three mostly worked for the king. Gradually the king gave authorization to artisans, ranchers and farmers to work on his lands; after this private property arose.

Also, farmers were the largest group, as the predominant economy in Mesopotamia was agriculture. This social class was the most numerous.

4- The slaves

Ancient clay tablet showing an Assyrian dog. Source: See page for author / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

This last organization was made up of all those prisoners and low-income citizens who, to pay off their debts, had to sell themselves and their families.

The slaves were people without any rights, belonging to the kingdom and people of the upper class.

The slaves carried out the work on the lands and the constructions of monuments. These people were paid by their owners basically only with food, clothing and oils.

References

  1. Joaquín Sanmartín, JM (1998). Ancient History of the Near East: Mesopotamia and Egypt. Madrid: AKAL Editions.
  2. Macias, R. (2002). History 1st Grade. Mexico, DF: Editorial Limusa.
  3. Mieroop, MV (1997). The Ancient Mesopotamian City. New York: Clarendon Press.
  4. Potts, DT (1997). Mesopotamian Civilization: The Material Foundations. London: A&C Black.
  5. Reade, J. (1998). Mesopotamia. Madrid: AKAL Editions.

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