Daily Life in Mesopotamia

The normal day of a Mesopotamian was based on what type of work they did.  Like many civilizations we will study, the Mesopotamians had a social structure where not everyone was equal.  At the top, with the most power, were the priests.  Below them were the kings, officials, and soldiers.  The next level were the merchants, traders, and craftsmen.  The farmers were next.  Finally, with the least amount of power, were the slaves.


A Mesopotamian ziggurat used to worship the gods. Only priests were allowed inside.
The priests were at the very top of the social pyramid because they were the closest to the gods that the people of Mesopotamia believed in.  In fact, they were the only people even allowed inside of a ziggurat!  The ziggurat was right in the middle of each city-state.  The priests lived close by in two story mud brick houses, hardened by the sun.  A priest in Mesopotamia was responsible for making sure everyone behaved in a way that would make the gods happy.

Kings and Government Officials

Upper Class King
Kings and government officials were responsible for creating the laws of each city-state, although it wasn't until King Hammurabi of Babylon came along that anyone bothered to write the laws down.  The kings and officials also lived close to the ziggurats, usually in two story houses made of the same material.  You could usually tell who was in the upper class by the way they dressed--they usually wore lots of jewelry made of gold, had nice clothing, and wore their hair in elaborate braids or up dos.

Soldiers and Scribes

It took 12 years to learn to write cuneiform.
The soldiers were proud members of a city-state.  City-states were known to attack each other over boundary disputes, trade, or sometimes just to show who had the most power.  In the same social class as the soldiers were the scribes (writers).  Being a scribe was a very prestigious job in Mesopotamia.  To become a scribe, a wealthy boy (no girls and no poor people at all) had to go to school for 12 years to learn how to write using cuneiform.  Scribes spent their days recording business documents onto clay tablets and keeping records.  These people lived a little further away from the ziggurat in one story mud brick houses.

Traders, Craftsmen, Merchants, and Farmers

Typical food grown by Mesopotamian farmers.
The next group included the traderscraftsmenmerchants.  They usually spent their day creating items to send to other places, selling goods, or trading with neighboring city-states.  Since money had not been invented yet, they used the system of barter--trade of one thing for another without using money.  The majority of the people (around 80%) were farmers, so they spent their time outside of the city walls, in the fertile fields, growing crops like barley, wheat, flax, onions, figs, grapes, and turnips.  These groups lived the furthest from the ziggurat in one story mud brick houses.


Slaves were used in Mesopotamia.
The slaves were the lowest social class.  When one city-state conquered another, they usually brought back prisoners to work as slaves for the upper class (kings, priests, and government officials).  Sometimes citizens of the city-state could become slaves--by being a criminal or by going into debt.  Slaves usually did household chores in the homes of the wealthy or constructed buildings around the city-state.