Are the Sumerians and the Assyrians the same?

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The Sumerians and Assyrians, both influential in the development of Mesopotamian civilization, are distinct cultures. Originating in southern and northern Mesopotamia respectively, they existed in different time periods and spoke different languages. The Sumerians are credited with inventing writing around 3500-3000 BC and their civilization flourished until circa 2000 BC. The Assyrian Empire, adopting cuneiform writing from the Sumerians, thrived from around 1900 BCE, extending from Mesopotamia to Asia Minor and Egypt.

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The two kingdoms are not identical. Although there is some overlap in geographical area, the kingdoms existed in different periods and had different languages. Sumer originated in southern Mesopotamia and Assyria in northern Mesopotamia. Both kingdoms marked important phases in the development of the Mesopotamian civilization, or the area "between the two rivers" of the Tigris and Euphrates in what is now Iraq. They did share many features in common, including basic social structure, use of cuneiform in writing, and some religious and artistic traditions.

Sumer was the smaller and earlier of the two kingdoms, responsible for, among other things, the invention of writing ca. 3500-3000 BC. The Sumerian tongue is a language isolate, with no surviving close relatives. However, due to the cultural prestige of Sumer and its early development of writing, Sumerian language, myth, and literature had an important influence on all subsequent Mesopotamian languages and cultures. City states arose in Sumer ca. 6500 BC and flourished until it was conquered by northern Mesopotamian powers ca. 2000 BC. Most students know Sumer through the Epic of Gilgamesh, which tells the story of a quasi-legendary king of the great Sumerian city-state Uruk.

The Assyrian Empire arose in northern Mesopotamia, and derives its name from the important city of Assur. The Assyrians spoke Semitic languages but adopted cuneiform writing from Sumer. It first flourished as the Akkadian (sometimes called neo-Sumerian) Empire and continued through ca. 900 BC, collapsing and arising again as the powerful and extensive neo-Assyrian empire which lasted from 911 to 609 BC.

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Although the Sumerian and Assyrian civilizations both originated in Mesopotamia in the Middle East, a region that encompasses modern-day Iraq and Kuwait, they are two separate civilizations.

Sumer was located in the Fertile Crescent in the southernmost part, situated between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, often defined as the “cradle of civilization.” This is because Sumerians are often considered the creators of modern society, stemming from their innovations in areas such as language, government, and architecture. Inventions such as the wheel, writing, the sailboat, agricultural processes such as irrigation, and the idea of the city are attributed to them.Their presence in the area dates back to at least 4500 BCE (Before the Common Era), and possibly even earlier as per recent calculations by historians. They controlled the region for about 2,000 years, until the Babylonians took charge in 2004 BCE.

Assyria came later, about 1900 BCE and stretched from Mesopotamia to Asia Minor (where Turkey is today) and down through Egypt. Their civilization is generally thought to be divided into the periods of growth and downfall: The Old Kingdom, The Middle Empire and The Late Empire, although it is interesting to note that the history of Assyrians is still evolving, with Assyrians live and well throughout the Middle East and elsewhere, including Iran and Iraq.

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As the other educators have noted, the Sumerians and the Assyrians were not the same people, although they both inhabited the same ancient country of Mesopotamia. The Sumerians were the first civilization to flourish in this area and the Assyrians came some centuries later.

In terms of further similarities, both civilizations are known for their contribution to literature. The Sumerians, for example, developed one of the first letter systems in history, called cuneiform, and gave us The Epic of Gilgamesh, a famous literary work which is still studied today.

Similarly, the Assyrians were also very interested in literature. They had their own libraries and developed their own written language, called Neo-Aramaic.

In addition, both the Sumerians and Assyrians had their empires destroyed by rival cultural groups. The Sumerian civilization was replaced by the Akkadians and the Assyrians by a force which included the Babylonians.

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No, the Sumerians and Assyrians were not the same civilization (though they both inhabited Mesopotamia). The Sumerians were far earlier, dating back as early as 4000 BCE, and can themselves be subdivided into various city-states (which were often in conflict with one another).

The Assyrians arose much later, originating perhaps around 2000 BCE. The Assyrians reached the apex of their power between the ninth and seventh centuries BCE, when they conquered Mesopotamia, as well as large sections of the Middle East.

The thing to keep in mind is that Mesopotamia actually saw a number of civilizations rise to power in the region. For example, one can also point towards Sargon and the Akkadians (who conquered the Sumerian City States in around 2300 BCE, though that empire collapsed within about a century of Sargon's death), as well as the Babylonians, another major civilization and (at times) empire-builder in the region. One can additionally look towards conquests from outside Mesopotamia altogether, as seen by the examples of Persia, or (later) Alexander the Great.

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Although the Assyrians and Sumerians both lived in ancient Mesopotamia, they are not the same.  The Sumerians lived in southern Mesopotamia beginning around 4000 BCE and were one of the first civilizations to create urban centers.  One of their cities, Uruk, was probably the largest city in the world during roughly 2800 BCE.  Some scholars believe there may have been as many as 60,000–80,000 inhabitants during this time. One of the greatest inventions of the Sumerians was the first written language, known as cuneiform. This wedge shaped form of writing was incised on wet clay tablets with an instrument known as a stylus.  In the beginning, it was used strictly for accounting and business purposes, but over time it allowed the Sumerians to record poetry, history, and law.

The Assyrians lived in northern Mesopotamia under the rule of the Akkadian empire until around 1900 BCE when they gained their independence.  During the period of roughly 911 BCE and 612 BCE, the Assyrians boasted the most powerful empire in the Middle East, stretching from what was then Persia to Egypt.  The capital city during the 800s BCE was Nimrud, and it was there that King Ashurnasirpal II created the first zoo. Later, they established the first known library at their capital city, Nineveh, during the reign of King Ashurbanipal from 668–621 BCE.  Interestingly, one of the major works of literature found in this library was the "Epic of Gilgamesh," a famous Sumerian poem.

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