Babylonian Culture and Tablets

  From Sumerians and Babylonians we learned to use the sexagesimal system, based on number 60 (for instance, 1 hour = 60 minutes). They invented the first writing system, cuneiform writings on clay tablets to facilitate trade in Mesopotamia. They also invented beer, which facilitated mobilization of Sumerian laborers in public building projects. Subsequently, Egyptians imitated their methods in building the pyramids. Beer and bread were often ratioined. Both Chinese and Sumerians used the same sexagesimal time (24 hours, 60 minutes, etc.) This may have been due to their trade from ancient times. (Arabian horses were well known, and Babylonian language was the trade language in western Asia since the time of King Akhenaton.) The following tables eloquently testify their contributions to human civilization. Their descendants are modern Iraqis and Iranians.

A cast of a stone tablet from the Uruk period (3300 - 3100 BC). The original is from Kish and was in Irak Museum. (Whether it is still there is uncertain due to looting last year.)

Symbols: head, hand, foot, 1, 2, 3, hammer (British Museum)

The symbol for beer is an upright jug with a pointed base. It appears three times on theis tablet. (British Museum)
The symbol of a human head with a triangular object is the verb meaning "eat." (British Museum)
Look for this symbol in the above tablet.

Sumerian devotees of Ishtar (BM, London and Hamburg). This is the typical attire of Sumerians as shown in the above Standard of Ur.

Pharaos paid the workers who constructed their tombs. The workers were not slaves, but subjets.

Ancient Babylonian clay tablet (c. 2500 BC) which shows how to read Babylonian numbers in cuneiform tablets
An old Babylonian tablet (1900 - 1600 BC), shown on the left, contains the so-called Pythagorean Theorem, except that it predates Pythagoras by a millennium or more. According to Neugebauer and Sachs (1946), the tablet lists in the two middle columns the numbers that satisfy the so-called Pythagorean Theorem. Specifically, from the left, the first column indexes the contents of the table (1, 2, 3, …), the second and the third the hypotenuse c and the leg a of a right triangle all in sexagesimal numbers. The fourth column shows (c/b)2 where b is the basis of the triangle. For instance, the 11th row shows 75, 45, and 1.5625 = (75/60)2. A translation of another Babylonian tablet preserved in the British museum states (John Heise):

4 is the length and 5 the diagonal. What is the breadth? Its size is not known. 4 times 4 is 16. 5 times 5 is 25. You take 16 from 25 and there remains 9. What times what shall I take in order to get 9? 3 times 3 is 9. 3 is the breadth.

The first Thesaurus
Ishtar Gate in Babylon and a model, Pergammon Museum, Berlin

Procession Street of Babylon during the reign of Nebuchadnezar II, Pergamon Museum, Berlin.

A German expedition brought these ceramic tiles from the old ruins of Babylonia.

Two reliefs showing the Babylonian ancestors picking the fruits of the tree of life, which look like cones.

Rosetts are shown around the stems, bound by three bands.

Tree of life motif with its flowers (rosettes).


Note the tree of life between the two guardians.

Note the rosette of the tree of life.

The guardian is picking the fruit of the tree of life.



The presence of a snake suggests that the Assyrians/Sumerians were aware of the legend of the tree of life and Adam and Eve. Although experts deny it now, the two persons may well have been 'Adam and Eve. Also, the deified person with a special headdress could have been Van, and the person on the left Adam. The scene may represent the banquet before Van's departure. Or they may be both women.

tree tree
ashurnasirpal ashurnasirpal
tree tree

Sacred tree (tree of life)

Columns in the ancient city Uruk (modern Warka), the city in which the Epic of Gilgamesh and the flood story originate.

An archeologist's rendition of What the German expedition found in Uruk, where the Great Flood occurred, Pergammon M, Berlin.

It looks like a geometry lesson tablet.

Capital mounted on "a tree of life."

This tree of life also shows its flowers/rosettes and root.

A male sphinx guarding the tree of life. An earlier picture.

Zoroastrian tree of life?



Note the tree of life on the top band and the protective spirits.

sphinx sphinx

The first world map (It also shows Euphrates and Babylon in the center.)

Sumerians exported beer to faraway countries, even Egypt. They were the first beer drinkers. They knew how to make beer and they had raw materials. Soon there were surplus of beers and that was the reason for their beer exports. Even in modern times, the Communist bloc countries exported surpluses to other members and avoided trading with free market economies.

This Babylonian clay tablet is the first map of the world. Circles were used to denote city centers, and this method has been adopted by cartographers ever since. Babylonians were interested in geography because of their exports of beer and other agricultural surpluses.

Even before the silk road was built, Babylonia during the Kassite dynasty (1595-1157 BC) imported cobalt for coloring glasses from China (Donald McKenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915). This Babylonia-China trade resulted in harmony of time counting. Both Babylonia and China used sexagesimal system. Chinese used a lunar calendar, dividing the day into 24 hours, each hour into 60 minutes. This is not a coincidence or accident, but the result of trade between the two regions.

Assyrians were neighbors of Babylonians. Much of their culture came from Babylonia.

Assyrians destroy Israel in 723 BCE and Babylonians vanquish Judah in the south in 586 BCE.

King of Elam ruled at Susa (now in Iran). Elam was conquered by the Assyrians later.

Wing lions, British Museum.

Persian King, Cyrus, built a vast empire in 549 BC. He conquered Assyria and liberated Jews to return to their homeland in 538 BC. Of an estimated 150,000 Jews, a third returns to Jerusalem.

The two reliefs show pine or fir cone shaped fruit of the tree of life and flowers (rosette).

Guardian spirits picking the fruits of the tree of life

The Tree of Life and its rosette design common in Assyrian alabaster reliefs. Assyrians used to live in the northern part of the Euphrates-Tigris plain.