Written language was an important milestone in human history. It enabled the recording of history, dreams and tragedy. It allowed for commercial and historical record keeping. It allowed human beings to imprint thoughts on paper, for sharing, later review or just for fun. What about societies that never developed a written language? Could such a society rival one with that has? When advances of Sumerian city-states are compared to that of Teotihuacan there are a few instances where the Mesoamerican city appears to be more advanced.
However, if ranked these appearances do not place Teotihuacan ahead of any one of Sumer’s Mesopotamian city-states. The formations of Sumerian city-states were the first signs of urbanization in Mesopotamia. Canal construction required stronger leadership than the typical Neolithic villages could execute. To do this, aristocratic councils of elders were formed to work with religious leaders. It was here that the political power of religious leaders and the organization of what might have been an early, and strictly relative group of “intellectuals” centralized.Order now
Situated between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Sumerian cities such as Uruk grew from small villages to populations of nearly 50,000. In 2600 B. C. E. , around the time of Gilgamesh, Sumer had a population of 500,00 people with almost 4/5 of them in urban areas. (45, 54. ) As farming procedures improved and therefore allowed for surplus, the Sumerian civilization began to grow not only in numbers, but also in the complexity of how it functioned on every level; its religious leaders became more powerful, its degree of specialization more complex and inventions and discoveries came faster and had greater impact on humanity. Urban ritual practice was more fully elaborate than was the rural counterpart. ” (49. )
Priests in Sumerian cities built enormous temples called ziggurats. Within these huge stepped “cities within cities (49). an entire workforce was busy with the affairs of civilization (49). Field workers would farm temple lands to provide for the massive amounts of food that was distributed. In Lagash for example, food was prepared for 1200 people on a daily basis (49). Though the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon in Teotihuacan were not as elaborate as Sumerian Ziggurats, each civilization shared a “Cosmo- magical” characteristic.
In Sumer, royal burial sites were so elaborate, that only specialized artisans could possibly have constructed them. According to the text, arches, vaults and domes were new levels of architecture found in burial tombs of the elite. In addition, elaborate funeral objects of gold and silver were also found with the dead. Sumerian arts and inventions flourished. The wheel itself, which led to the potters wheel and wagon wheels, were apparently invented in Sumer. (49). This lent sophistication to pottery and increased efficiency to farming.
The Bronze Age found its origins in Sumerian civilization, which put metal tips on hoes, axes, arrowheads, daggers and many other tools. In Teotihuacan however, the economy “ thrived on agriculture, craftwork, and trade in ceramics and quarried obsidian. “ (98) There was no evidence in the text or lecture notes that they had achieved the amenities of the Bronze age. However, the most significant invention of the Sumerian civilization was the development of a written language. Using a system of wedge-like forms, Sumerian writing began as a means to keep track of ownership and business transactions.
By 3000 B. C. E. , “ some scribes were already thinking in terms of teaching and learning,” and with this one tool, Sumerians “enriched their lives” ( 52. ). Writing allowed Sumer to correspond with neighbors, develop written legal codes, write literature and communicate with neighbors. Half a world away and a couple thousand years later another civilization was peaking, somewhat similar to the Sumerians. Teotihuacan developed into a significant empire around 550 B. C. about 40 miles northeast of what is presently Mexico City.
It shares some characteristics with Sumer. Like in Sumer, it is thought that a relationship between religious leaders and administration officials existed in Teotihuacan. According to the text, the proximity of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl to the city’s administrative headquarters, the Ciudadela, suggests a relationship. In addition, 75 temples lined the Avenue of the Dead. It is unlikely that such a vast amount of resources would have been dedicated to spiritual structures without strong religious influence or administrative approval.
Either way, a relationship is likely to have existed. Also like Sumer, Teotihuacan developed advanced artistic accomplishments. The colossal heads from San Lorenzo are the perfect examples. In terms of the artistic skill required to shape this ten-ton rocks, they are comparable to the Sumerian bas reliefs. There are many more differences between them however. For instance, Teotihuacan architectural advancement seems to stop short of things like arches, domes and vault. However, that conclusion is admittedly a result of omission on part of the text and lecture notes.
The most significant difference between the two however, lies in Teotihuacan complete lack of a written language. Everything known about the ancient civilization has been found through the excavation of artifacts (97). It is here however, that Teotihuacan society might seem comparable to Sumer. For instance, the largest city in Sumer reached a population 50,000. and circumference of 6 miles. (. 46) It is challenging to administer, but with a written language and the ability to publicize laws and information, the task is certainly made easier.
Teotihuacan had at least double the population of any individual Sumer city-state with no written language to facilitate its management. In comparing the map on page 98, of Teotihuacan and that of Nippur on page 47 it is clear that the develop of the Mesoamerican city is more advanced. Note the orderly, grid like pattern of the city. The ceremonial complex resembles the Plan of Acropolis on page 145. It is clear that this complex was previously planned and executed. Why significant? The map of Nippur resembles an ancient form of urban sprawl.
Roads curve to the left and right, buildings are scattered all over. Granted, the full picture of Nippur is not included on the tablet. However, the caption does state that the map, “ shows several of the city’s key buildings”, which are not nearly as organized as the Teotihuacan. In fact, the Teotihuacan ceremonial complex, in terms of planned development, resembles The Plan of Acropolis in Greece, which was considerably more advanced society than the Sumerians. What does this tell us about the cities?
A city-state, again with twice as many people as Sumer’s most populous city, emerged in Mesoamerica without a written language. This however, does not make Teotihuacan a superior civilization when compared to Sumer city-states. Perhaps planners in Teotihuacan planned the city so well in response to a considerably higher rate of population density. The Sumerians would not have planned their cities to that extent because there was no need to. In addition, while Teotihuacan still quarried obsidian rock, Sumer was developing metal weapons.
Teotihuacan religious and administrative officials are clearly members of an advanced society. They built and sustained an empire of nearly one hundred thousand for centuries without the need for written language. They had to have conducted commercial transactions on verbal agreement alone. Their government somehow maintained order, probably ruthlessly, despite the lack of written law. Each generation for the centuries of the empire’s success was politically socialized adequately enough for the empire to continue, all without writing down a single word.