Ancient Mesopotamia Social Classes

The whole of Mesopotamia was divided into two parts – Northern Mesopotamia and Southern Mesopotamia. The Sumerians ruled the Southern part whereas the Akkadians ruled the Northern region.

People living in both parts were categorized in a hierarchy based on their social class. The division was done based on the roles, responsibilities, and privileges of the people. 

There were more than three social classes which included The King and nobility, the priest, the upper class, the lower class, and the lowest class.

There were more than three social classes which included The King and nobility, the priest, the upper class, the lower class, and the lowest class.#mesopotamia. Click To Tweet

The King and the nobility:

The King and the nobility

This category included the King of a city-state, an empire, or a region. The Kings had a direct link and relationship with gods and acted as the mediator between people and gods. 

The power of any King depended on the total area of the territory he was able to conquer. The more the territory, the higher would be his power. 

The most powerful King of this civilization was Sargon of Akkad. He was able to prove himself as the most impactful Kings through his military conquests and expansion of the Empire.

Besides King, the family of King and the nobles were placed under this category. The nobles governed the city-state, region, or the Empire. They were also entertained with the rights almost equal to those of the royalty.

The burials of this category were done in a luxurious way with an extravagant burial tomb. They were also privileged with personal diviners for interpreting the unseen message and forecasting the future with supernatural powers.

The Priest and the Priestess:

The Priest and the Priestess:

The Priest and the Priestess belonged to the next categories after royalty. They had equal honour and power as royalty. 

They acted as the mediator between the general population and the gods. People were advised to serve good and follow the rules placed by the gods. Doing so they would please the gods and be blessed with favourable climate and less hardship.

Besides being the mediator, they were also the doctors and the dentists of the ancient civilization. They treated and served as the healers to the deceased whenever necessary.

They could also interpret the signs and omens, as they were the literate ones. In addition to this, they also carried out the sacred duties, which included baptism, confession, holy orders, and marriage. 

The most famous priestess of ancient Mesopotamia was Enhenduanna, daughter of Sargon of Akkad. She served as the High Priestess of Ur and carried out the healing, interpreting, and took care of the business of temple.  

The Upper Class: Scribes, Military men, and Merchants

This class included numerous groups, including Scribes, Military men, and Merchants. They were honoured and respected by the general population like the royalty and the nobility.

The scribes were qualified, intelligent, and highly skilled people. They were placed in the upper class for these qualities and also for working for the King.

The Scribes wrote the cuneiform after many years of dedication. They were the teachers and taught everyone to write and read. They also served in temples, at court, and tutored the royalties.

Military men were trained to fight and serve civilization. They entered in the siege warfare, battled tactics, and in hand-to-hand combats. They were honoured for their bravery and for saving everyone with their dedication.

Merchants were also a significant group of this class. They traded goods and were very wealthy.

Merchants enjoyed their lives with earning from the trades. They had slaves, personal diviners working for them and lived luxurious lives like royalty.

Other significant groups of people under this class were the architects, accountants, shipwrights, and astrologers.

The Lower Class: Farmers, musicians, builders

Mesopotamia-Agriculture-Inventions

This class included mostly the people of working-class such as farmers, musicians, builders, artisans, carpenters, prostitutes, and butchers.

These people were the ones who kept the city operating with their day to day life activities. Everyone performed different duties which made the lives more comfortable.

For instance, Artisans played essential roles in the culture of this civilization as they were highly qualified and created things that were essential in their daily lives. The creation included pots, cloths, weapons, baskets, dishes, and works of arts worth pleasing gods.

Women were the first doctors, brewers, tavern keepers, and bakers. These tasks were later taken over by men. However, they were categorized in the lower class and were never given equal rights as men.

Despite the class categorization, every single one of them had a chance to climb the ladder towards the higher classes. One of the tavern-keepers named Ku-baba was made Queen and ruled the town of Kish.

The Lowest Class:

The slaves were included in the lowest class, which came at the bottom of the social class pyramid in Mesopotamian Civilization.

The lowest class included the people who were punished by the nation, kidnapped, trafficked, sold oneself for being unable to pay off debt, and sold by their family to repay debt.

Though the people of this class were well qualified, skilled, and talented, they were never given a chance to upgrade themselves to the higher classes. Neither were they provided the right or power like higher class.

The work assigned to these people included tutoring children, tending horses, keeping accounts, making jewellery, and numerous artworks. Almost everyone was capable and efficient enough to complete the assigned tasks within the given period.

However, in some rare cases, the slaves were granted freedom depending on the behaviour they showed towards their owners. It all depended upon the attitude of the owner.

Social Class categorization in Sumer and Akkad city-state:

Sumerians:

The Sumerians were the earliest tribes of Mesopotamia civilization ruling the Southern region. The total population of this region was classified into various social classes.

There were a total of four social classes under the city-state of Sumer. They were: The King, the priest, the middle class, and the slaves.

The King was the ruler of the region. He acted as the direct link between the gods and the people.  

The middle included armies and military personnel who fought bravely for the safety of the region. Besides them, this class also had farmers, potters, bakers, butchers, and merchants. They made every day lives more comfortable with their deeds.

The lowest class included the slaves. They were made to do the work assigned to them by their owners.

Women of this region were given rights to be a priestess, own properties, run businesses, work as physicians, scribes, and also act as judges or witnesses in courts.

Akkadians:

Akkad was the world’s first Empire. They defeated Sumerians and ruled over the city-state Sumer.

The total population was divided into three major groups. They were the high class, the middle class, and the lower class.

The high class included royalty, nobles, priests, and priestess. The middle class consists of merchants, teachers, and labourers. 

The lowest class included the slaves, mostly the Sumerians after being defeated by the Akkadians.

Women in this region had no rights to participate in trades or any religious rituals.

Related: Ancient Mesopotamia: From it’s beginning to its End

Conclusion:

The categorization of people into different social classes was no different from any civilization. However, a belief of the direct link between gods and people made with the help of the King or the Priest is a different belief of this civilization.

The culture of dividing people into different social classes is still ongoing. Even now, people are categorized and given privileges based on the roles and responsibilities carried out by them.

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Cite this article as: Richard Marrison, "Ancient Mesopotamia Social Classes," in HistoryTen, May 5, 2020, https://historyten.com/mesopotamia/ancient-mesopotamia-social-classes/.
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