October 25, 2006

Mesopotamia

Spread of Civilisation in the ancient World
The Indus valley people began moving towards Sumer as early as 3200 BC and established their first settlements in ancient Sumer. They spoke the language of their forefathers. It was a completely different language from that of local populations of the area. Ancient Sumerian language is different from other languages of the area such as Hebrew, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian and Aramaic, which are Semitic languages, and Elamite a non-Semitic tribal language of the area with African connections. However, as the ruling class, the colonizers made Sumerian the official language. The local population continued to use Akkadian language. 

Whenever an official language differs from a local one, it is a clear indication that the rulers are of foreign origin. It is surprising that ancient historians on earth have not used this as a clue to tracing the origin of the people who brought civilization to Mesopotamia. The extent of the civilized world around 3000 BC lies in a belt extending from the Nile valley to the Indus valley. Since ancient Sumerian is completely different from the local languages around Mesopotamia, it is not difficult to guess where these new colonizers had come from. Their language was different from that of Nile Valley as well. However, since it was the Sumerians who established civilization in the Nile Valley too, some of their vocabulary did enter Egypt and continues to be used till today, as for example the word Khet for an agricultural holding. By the time Sumerians reached the Nile valley they had no need to establish Sumerian as the official language of Nile valley since they had become familiar with local languages of the area. As intermarriages between local Akkadians and ruling Sumerians increased, Sumerian was replaced by Akkadian as a spoken language around 2000 BC. Nevertheless, it continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial and scientific language in Mesopotamia until about 1 AD. From the beginning of the second millennium, Babylonians and Assyrians maintained and utilized the extinct Sumerian language in much the same way that ancient Greek and Latin are used for artistic, religious and scholarly purposes today.

Although the Sumerian language is not an Indo-Aryan language it uses the root system for developing words. This was later adapted by Indo-Aryans in the development of Sanskrit in the Indus Valley. The use of Sumerian language began first in southern Mesopotamia and spread northwards indicating from which direction Indus people arrive in Mesopotamia. Ancient scribes have provided equivalence between Sumerian and Akkadian words and these can be employed to advantage by historians struggling to decipher the Indus Script. So far they have been looking elsewhere trying to establish its equivalence with Dravidian or Indo-European languages and failed. The Indus language was replaced by Indo-Aryan languages in the Indus valley as in much of the old world with the arrival of Aryans. Some of the words of the Indus-Sumerian language however continue to persist in local dialects till today.

Map from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spread_of_Oecumene_Mesopotamia.jpg This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. The image has been modified before use here.
 

2 comments:

keiko amano said...

Ashok,

Wow, it's even before Sanskrit! It's very satisfying to read your blog.

ashok said...

Thanks Keiko.