What Did Sumerian States Call Their Temples

What Did Sumerian States Call Their Temples?

The ancient Sumerians, who inhabited the region of Mesopotamia (modern-day southern Iraq) from around 4500 BCE to 1900 BCE, laid the foundations for numerous aspects of human civilization. Among their many achievements, the Sumerians are credited with the invention of writing, the development of complex urban societies, and the establishment of the world’s first known states. Temples played a central role in Sumerian society and religion, serving as important cultural, economic, and political institutions. In this article, we will explore what the Sumerian states called their temples and delve into the significance of these magnificent structures.

The Temples of Ancient Sumer

In ancient Sumer, temples were not only religious centers but also the focal points of the city-states. These temples were grand structures, often towering above the surrounding landscape, and were considered the dwelling places of deities. The Sumerians believed that their gods and goddesses resided within these temples and that they could communicate with them through rituals and offerings.

The Sumerian word for temple was “é” (pronounced “ay”). This term was used by all Sumerian city-states to refer to their sacred structures, regardless of their specific architectural design or purpose. It is important to note that the term “é” did not exclusively mean temple; it also denoted a dwelling or a house. This linguistic ambiguity reflects the Sumerians’ belief that the gods lived amongst them.

The Role of Temples in Sumerian Society

Temples in Sumerian society served various functions beyond their religious significance. They were important economic centers, acting as storehouses for agricultural produce and goods. The temples also oversaw the distribution of these resources, playing a crucial role in maintaining social order and stability.

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Moreover, temples played a vital role in the political landscape of Sumerian city-states. They were often the residences of high-ranking priests who held considerable influence over both religious and secular matters. Temples were also administrative centers, with scribes and bureaucrats managing the vast resources and lands owned by the temples. As a result, temples became powerful institutions, playing a major role in the governance and organization of Sumerian states.


Q: Were all Sumerian temples the same in design and structure?

A: No, Sumerian temples varied in design and structure depending on the city-state and the deity worshipped. However, most temples consisted of several key elements, such as a central hall and an altar where offerings were made.

Q: Did Sumerian temples have any external decorations or architectural features?

A: Yes, Sumerian temples were often adorned with intricate carvings, friezes, and statues. These decorations depicted scenes from mythology, religious rituals, and the daily life of the Sumerians.

Q: Were Sumerian temples open to the public?

A: Sumerian temples were not accessible to the general public. Only priests and other religious officials were allowed inside the sacred areas of the temples. However, open courtyards and surrounding areas were sometimes used for public gatherings and ceremonies.

Q: What happened to the Sumerian temples after the decline of Sumerian civilization?

A: With the fall of Sumerian civilization, many of the temples were abandoned or repurposed by subsequent empires and civilizations. Some were even destroyed or left to deteriorate over time. However, their influence and architectural styles continued to inspire later civilizations in the region.

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Q: Are there any surviving examples of Sumerian temples?

A: Unfortunately, very few intact Sumerian temples have survived to the present day. However, archaeological excavations have revealed the remains of several temples, such as the ziggurat of Ur, which provide valuable insights into the grandeur and significance of these ancient structures.

In conclusion, the Sumerian states referred to their temples as “é,” which served as religious, economic, and political centers. These grand structures played a central role in the lives of the Sumerians, housing their deities and serving as symbols of power and authority. Although the physical remains of Sumerian temples are scarce, their legacy continues to fascinate and inspire us today.