Mesopotamian Government: The political hierarchy

Mesopotamia civilization’s political hierarchy was based on Monarchy, which consisted of three major classes, including nobles, free citizens, and slaves.

Mesopotamia had an organized government with the leaderships passed down in a hierarchical order by kingly dynasties.

The King was the ruler and the lawmaker, followed by wise men’s assembly, selected by the citizens’ council. The assembly had the right to overrule the King if any of the rules seemed wrong.

Besides these wise men, numerous civil servants, scribes, temple officials were given an honored responsibility.

The scribes worked directly under the King, whereas the temple officials took care of and protected orphans and widows. The division of roles, power, and privileges began around 2000 BC.

The major ones can be made clear with the details given here.

King and Queen:

Assyrian King and Queen, 668 BC
Assyrian King and Queen, 668 BC
Source: Wikimedia Common

Kings and queens of the Mesopotamia civilization were the descendants of the city of gods. However, people never believed them to be real gods.

The Kings were the ones with the highest power and honor. They could make laws and rules which were to be followed and obeyed by the citizen.

Kings gave themselves some titles based on the roles they performed. Some called themselves ‘Sheperd’ to look after their people, whereas some called themselves the Universe or great King.

Amongst the many Kings, the Sargon of Akkad and Hammurabi are the most powerful kings in ancient Mesopotamia. 

There were laws under the name of Hammurabi – Hammurabi’s law; they were made by Hammurabi and were to be respected and followed by the citizen. There even were penalties or punishment for the ones going against these laws.

Governor:

Governors of Ancient Mesopotamia
Governors of Ancient Mesopotamia
Source: Wikimedia Common

Every city-state of the Mesopotamia civilization had one governor whose primary responsibility was to make people pay tax. 

The system of assigning one governor to each city-state started with the Assyrian Empire. The empire was divided into numerous provinces, which included Samaria, Arpad, and Nineveh.

Each of these provinces had one governor of their own. They were responsible for making people pay taxes, enforce the King’s law, assign workers during the construction of a temple, and send soldiers to war.

Laws:

Code of Hammurabi
Code of Hammurabi
Source: Wikimedia Common

The law codes in the Mesopotamia civilization was made under the consent and decision of Kings. This civilization was the creator of the first law codes in history.

Numerous Kings made laws and codes. However, the most well-known and well-obeyed ones were the laws of Hammurabi.

The Hammurabi’s laws were made around c.1780 BC and are one of the first and most preserved sets of documents from ancient Mesopotamia. 

The law had 282 rules, including fines, punishments, and justice 

The most crucial punishments include

  • If a son attacks his father, his hands would be cut off and
  • If a man put an eye on a woman, his eyes would be put out

The primary section of the codes were Prologuw, legal procedures, household laws, slavery, religion, trade and business, and Epilogue.

The government based on City-State:

The Mesopotamia civilization was divided into two major regions, namely the northern region and the southern region. There was a further division of these regions into the city-state.

Every city-state was different from each other and had different processes and methods of running the government.

Geography played a significant role in the advancement of politics in regions of this civilization. The Sumerians built the first cities along the irrigation canals. 

The canals built separated the Sumerians from other city-states. The canals were separated by open deserts where nomadic lived, which made them independent ones with protective independence.

Although other cities would try to overtake or unify the cities, Sumerians did not let it happen as they were the stronger ones on warfare.

However, later Sumer was unified by Ennatum, a Sumerian ruler but did not last long as the Akkadians conquered it in 2331 BC. 

The Empire of the Akkadians was the first Empire with numerous succession kings. The Sargon of Akkad, the first emperor, reigned from 2334-2279 BC and used religion to show his power.

The empire also could not last long as the Babylonians conquered it after a few generations. The first empire was taken over by Hammurabi.

Sumerian Government and Law:

Kudurru of Gula Eresh Sumerian Theocratic Goverment
Kudurru of Gula Eresh Sumerian Theocratic Goverment
Source: Wikimedia Common

Sumer’s government system was a theocratic government where everyone worshiped God, and the Kings were the mediator of God. 

He made rules along with the consequences of going against them. There were categories of people where leaders led the city-state, and commoners followed the leader’s laws. 

The leaders assigned people to go into the water and also control over the water systems. They lived in palaces and enjoyed privileges like a personal diviner and an extravagant burial.

The political and religious activities were mostly oriented towards gods, and the priesthood serving local gods was also established.

 Babylonian Government and Law:

Hammurabi God Babylon
Hammurabi God Babylon
Source: Wikimedia Common

The government and law system of Babylonia was similar to the Sumerian government and law.

The King was the ruler and the lawmaker, followed by the nobility. Every citizen was supposed to know, respect, and obey the rules and laws made by the King.

Anyone found going against the laws and rules was punished. Every broken law had its punishment accordingly. 

King Hammurabi wrote the most potent law. He carved the rules and regulations in stone tablets to ensure every citizen had access to it and followed it.

The stone depicted King Hammurabi giving laws from Babylonians to Shamash, a Sun god. 

Assyrian Government and Law:

Assurbanipal chase
Assurbanipal chase
Source: Wikimedia Common

The government and law system of Assyria was different than Sumerian and Babylonian government and law.

The King was the ruler, the lawmaker, and the representative of God Ashur. The military officers enforced the rules and laws as they took charge of the local government.

The King had the Chief of staff as his advisor. He would help and guide the King if in case of a need.

Assyria was the first empire divided into numerous provinces. Each had one governor assigned to look after the region.

Conclusion:

The Mesopotamia civilization was the first civilization to start the dynasty system where every King had full belief in gods and considered themselves the mediator of gods.

The laws and rules were supposed to be learned, understood, and followed by every citizen. Everyone followed laws, some voluntarily, whereas some due to the fear of facing the consequences, which were very brutal in some cases.

Despite being one of the oldest civilizations, the government and hierarchy are similar to those of the present-day government in many countries and states.

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Cite this article as: Richard Marrison, "Mesopotamian Government: The political hierarchy," in HistoryTen, November 3, 2020, https://historyten.com/mesopotamia/mesopotamian-government/.
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