Mesopotamia was a civilisation which arose in what is now modern day Iraq. For millennia, the old histories lay buried and hidden beneath the rubble that was left of its glorious past. But the day came, when these stories were unearthed from beneath the ground and we began not only to marvel, but to show gratitude for this ancient civilisation that has shaped our very own.
On the surface, it may appear that Mesopotamia was a wholly different and undecipherable world that has nothing to do with our own. But on closer inspection and careful study, we will undoubtedly see that we are all enjoying the fruits of a civilisation that we neither remembered nor had a record of; till archeologists dug through the dust-filled streets and unearthed not gold–but records and records which showcased a rich world far more glorious than we can ever imagine.
Revealed by the documents and artefacts that were unearthed, we see, first-hand, an image of Mesopotamia as a civilisation that was conscious of the nature of its existence, focused and purposeful in its aspirations, and consistent in the expression of its ambitions. The later civilisations mirrored it, but none came as close to Mesopotamia in its ambition or its inventiveness.
The ancient Mesopotamians not only created schools, but saw them as fundamental to their progress as a people. It was the first civilisation to attempt large-scale writing. Scribal schools and the role that they played helped to preserve and enrich mankind’s earliest civilisations through the long road that would lay ahead. The long lost, but now found, legacy of the scribes was practical in its usage and literary in its aspirations.
The scribe was a central figure in ancient Mesopotamia. They were the first people to fix their thought forms into clay. This invention allowed all the fruits of civilisation to flourish. It was this invention that created a societal permanence and continuity that had hence fore been elusive. Little, however, is known about the social position and influence of the scribes as a group of people.
From the evidence that has been discovered, scholars have concluded that two distinct strains had evolved within the literary tradition. One featured the artistic aspirations of the poet. This included: political writers, non-canonical writings as well as theoretical frameworks that had been conceptualised by scholars. The second literary tradition focused on the education system. Curricula was specially developed for students studying to be scribes. The scribal art was neither easy to learn nor was it a tradition that was easy to ‘graduate’ from.
The importance of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in carrying out the fulfilment of this undertaking cannot be emphasised enough. The large scale agricultural economy of Mesopotamia necessitated a developed need for storage and record-keeping. A need arose to record transactions such as: wages, land titles, crop payments and other similar transactions.
At the centre of this complex civilisation was the temple. It was the temple that functioned as the principal regulator of trade and commerce. Due to this role, the function of the scribe grew increasingly necessary for administrative purposes. The invention of the cuneiform was what led to the emergence of the literate bureaucracy. The scribe was also a translator: particularly of Akkadian and Sumerian.
It is the scribe who emerges as the unsung hero of ancient Mesopotamia. It is the scribe who, with his or her bare hands, left a record that would vanish without a trace–till it was found again.