Sumerian Art Characteristics & Architecture

Sumerian Art Characteristics & Architecture

The Sumerians would be the first civilizing population to dwell in southern Mesopotamia creating commerce and inventing new varieties of art. Such as tapestry, leatherwork, and metalwork.

The Sumerian civilization thrived in the fourth and third millennia BCE before being conquered by Semitic-speaking rulers of the Akkadian Empire in approximately 2270 BCE. 

Where did the Sumeria begin?

Before the Akkadian Civilization, Sumer was one of the oldest Mesopotamian civilizations. Sumer is located in southern Mesopotamia and is thought to have been populated between 4500 and 4000 BC.


What Does It Mean to Be a "Sumer"?

The Sumerians were given the nickname Sumer by the Akkadians. The Sumerians called themselves "Black-headed people" or "Black-headed ones." The Sumerians gave their territory the name Kengir, which means "Country of the Noble Lords."

Uruk and its importance

When Sumerian society became more developed when Uruk was regarded as the beginning "true" city-states. It began around 4000 B.C. and ended around 3200 B.C.

Different government forms, such as political, social hierarchies, and armed services, existed. It was separated into two periods: the Early Uruk Period (c. 4000 BC to 3500 BC) as well as the Late Uruk Period (c. 3500 BC to 3100 BC).

With a population of roughly 40,000 people and an estimated 80,000 to 90,000 individuals in the neighboring towns, it was one of the greatest city-states in southern Mesopotamia. 


What types of art did the Sumerians create?

Painting and sculpting were important creative forms for the Sumerians. Stone and wood were among the resources obtained by Sumerian artisans, and commerce was a vital aspect of a thriving civilization.

The arts of the Sumerians

The Sumerians were not only adept in ceramics and sculpting, but they also created stunning items using semi-precious stone ornamental materials such as alabaster, lapis lazuli, and serpentine.

A few of these gems were also brought in from other countries. Silver, gold, bronze, and copper were utilized as inserts and designs on numerous things.  Stone and clay were also employed by the Sumerians. Because of the clay available on the land, clay was a common option to work with. 

The predominance of Sumerian art comes from burial grounds; moreover, numerous artifacts, many of them valuable, were buried with the deceased.


In Sumerian (Sumer), what sort of materials were used to create art?

Semi-precious rocks, seashells, wood, red limestone, and metals such as gold, silver, and copper, were used by the Sumerians to produce artwork.

All of these were utilized in Sumerian monuments and sculptures. Several archaeological discoveries have also uncovered vast amounts of Sumerian sculptures, statues, figurines, ceramics, and other items.

Clay was a common and naturally available medium, therefore the Sumerians used it to build their structures and tablets to record on.

What was Sumerian art's purpose?

Sumerian art was decorative art and used to elegantly adorn items. It was used at holy functions.

Many of the Sumerian artifacts were unearthed in graveyards temples were major constructions that were built with great art for the aim of honoring individual gods.


Famous Sumerian art (The Queen’s Lyre)

Famous Sumerian art (The Queen’s Lyre)


The Queen's Lyre was discovered alongside many other lyres in Ur's Royal Tomb. This Lyre, which measures 112.50 centimeters in height and 73 centimeters in length, was discovered in Queen Puabi's burial.

The hardwood that made it had deteriorated overtime at the burial, but it's been rebuilt in sections. Leonard Woolley is said to have discovered two lyres in the queen's tomb. When examining the Lyre you can see that the music box is shaped like a bull.

The bull's eyes, which are also composed of shells, are all fashioned of lapis lazuli. The two white horns appear to be later embellishments to the initial, old figure, giving us an idea of what it appeared to look like.

What kind of architecture did the Sumerians construct?

As memorials to indigenous deities, the Sumerians built ziggurats. The ziggurat's oldest known forms are from the Ubaid period in the fourth millennium BC, while the most recent ones come from the 6th century BC.



The building of the ziggurat, a large structure in the shape of a scaled step pyramid with gradually diminishing levels or tiers, with a sanctuary or temple at the summit, was one of Sumerian architecture's most outstanding achievements. Mounting and layering were used to construct ziggurats, just as they were for pyramids.

Ziggurats were not open to the general public as houses of worship. To care for cult sculptures and give offerings, only clergymen or other permitted religious officials were permitted inside.

The earliest surviving ziggurats originate from the Sumerian civilization in the fourth millennium BCE, but they were still popular in the late third and early second millennia BCE.

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The architecture of the Sumerians

The origins of monumental buildings in Mesopotamia are generally thought to have occurred around 3100 BCE, at the same time as the founding of Sumerian cities and the development of writing.

The creation of religious buildings throughout the so-called Protoliterate period shows deliberate attempts at architectural forms. The two types of temples—platform and ground-level—remained in use.

Two of the platform temples were known to have been housed within walled enclosures, they were oval in shape and featured priestly quarters. Typical Protoliterate temples had intricate ornamentation.

A structured mosaic of terra-cotta conical was driven into the wall, and the visible ends were coated in vivid colors or encased in bronze, which was a common interior wall adornment.

Sumerian culture's characteristics

Sumeria was a confederation of at least 12 city-states on the Euphrates River, near the Persian Gulf, each controlled by a supreme leader. Adab, Akshak, Bad-Tibira, Erech, Kish, Lagash, Larak, Larsa, Nippur, Sippar, Umma, Uruk, and Ur were among the famous city-states.

The Sumerians are no longer considered to be the nation's first settlers, but instead "conquerors," though how they arrived and how expelled the natives before them, is still unknown.

Sumerians pictograph writing was the forerunner of the cuneiform characters that would spread across much of the Near East.

Sumerians established new metal processing skills such as the use of copper as far back as 5,000 BCE and devising the potter's wheel.


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