Music in Ancient Sumeria – History and Importance


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The Sumerians lived in what ancient Mesopotamia, where modern Iraq and part of Iran are located, from 5300BC to1940BC. They were the first in many different areas. They had schools, a strong mathematical system, geometry, astronomy, cuneiform writing, calendars, credited with the invention of the wheel, and many other signs of a strong civilization. Not only were they first in these, but also appear to be the first to establish music that would be recognizable to people modernly. Musicians were educated in Mesopotamian schools and they played an important part in ancient sumerian Life. Lyres were very popular and reflected the sumerians love for music.

Music Instruments discovered in burial sites and art include the Lyre, clappers and later even drums and wind instruments. Specifically, reed pipes, vertical flutes, lyres, harps, kitharas, drums, clappers, sistrum made for a wide array of instruments. Songs were often devotionals to the goddess Innanna. They were incorporated into religious and daily life. Another interesting discovery appears to be notation. A numeric system found on many hymnal texts seems to be a form of notation.

Music appears to have its roots in the temples, but soon became part of daily life. Musicians would purify their hands before playing stringed instruments such as the Lyre.

The music centered around the heptatonic-diatonic scale which is currently used in western music today. It had been believed that western music got its origin in later period Greek music, but scholars are now taking a closer look at Sumerian origins as a distinct possibility.

One must keep in mind that what could be attributed as musical Sumerian firsts could have very well been inherited from previous civilizations. We have little to no record of these prior civilizations, therefore, are unable to conclude concretely as to the origins of Sumerian instruments and scales. It is just simply fascinating though, to contemplate music from a civilization so incredibly ancient, yet so reflective of our very own modern civilization.

After the collapse of sumerian civilization around 2000 BC, you might think that all this knowledge had been lost. The Babylonians, however, used the knowledge gained from the Sumerians and continued the musical momentum.

To understand the role of musical theory in modeling the cosmos, one must realize that it involves: „the definition of intervals, the distance between pitches, by ratios of integers or counting numbers.“ For the ancient Sumerians music was a tool that helped them describe the cosmos.(McClain, Ernest G.; „Musical Theory and Ancient Cosmology,“ The World and I, p. 371,February 1994. Cr. L. Ellenberger)

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Source by Tinamarie Hite

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