The First Civilization: Mesopotamia (Online)

Course details

From £280.00
10 CATS points

Wed 15 Jan 2020 - Fri 27 Mar 2020

The First Civilization: Mesopotamia (Online)


Civilization, life in cities, was born over five thousand years ago on the fertile plains of southern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). Using archaeology and textual sources in translation, this course will build a picture of the Sumerian civilization, one that lies at the root of our own urban, literate, globalised world.

In Sumer, the inhabitants of vast settlements worked the land, built monumental architecture, and created extraordinary art. The Sumerians developed the earliest writing, established richly furnished temples to receive the blessing of their gods, formed armies to battle for control of land and water, thereby establishing some of the earliest empires, and sought exotic materials from distant lands along trade routes stretching from Egypt in the west to Afghanistan in the east. Using archaeology and textual sources in translation, this course will build a picture of the Sumerian civilization, one that lies at the root of our own urban, literate, globalised world.

For information on how the courses work, and a link to our course demonstration site, please click here.

Programme details

1. The land of Mesopotamia

  • Physical geography of Mesopotamia
  • Northern Mesopotamia
  • Southern Mesopotamia
  • The Flood
  • From village to town

2. Uruk: The world's first city

  • Tell Brak
  • Cities of the south
  • Mass production
  • The art of Uruk
  • Uruk expansion

3. Writing and recording

  • The decipherment of cuneiform
  • Forms of recording: Tokens, bullae, tags, tablets
  • Uruk tablets
  • Cylinder seals
  • Scripts and languages

4. Sumerian religion

  • Sumerian city-states and their gods
  • Sumerian gods and goddesses
  • Temples
  • Votive objects
  • Nippur: Enlil and Inana

5. Kings and city-states

  • The Sumerian King List
  • Kish and the origins of kings
  • The Standard of Ur
  • Umma-Lagash border dispute
  • Gilgamesh: The perfect king

6. Death and burial

  • Houses for the living and the dead
  • Graves at Kish
  • Royal Graves at Ur
  • Queen Puabi and sacrificial victims
  • The Netherworld

7. Sumer's neighbours

  • Syria: The Royal Palace at Ebla
  • Indus Valley civilisation: Seals and writing
  • Ancient Egypt: Kingship and burial
  • Trade and exchange in the Persian Gulf
  • Iran: Religion and ritual at Susa

8. The world's first empire

  • A Semitic dynasty
  • Sargon’s children
  • Naram-Sin
  • The art of Akkad
  • The end of Akkad

9. The Sumerian 'revival'

  • Gudea of Lagash
  • Ur: The seat of kingship
  • Tombs and foundation inscriptions
  • Shulgi’s reforms
  • The end of empire

10. The legacy of Sumer

  • The Sumerian legacy
  • The rise of Babylon
  • Mari
  • Hammurapi of Babylon
  • The law code of Hammurapi
  • The modern destruction of Mesopotamia

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.

Recommended reading

To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following textbooks:

Crawford, H., Sumer and the Sumerians (2nd edition) (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004)

Van De Mieroop, M., A History of the Ancient Near East: Ca. 3000-323 BC (Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, 2006) (2nd edition)


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £10 fee.

For more information on CATS point please click on the link below:

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting both course assignments and actively participating in the course forums. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.


Home/EU Fee: £280.00
Non-EU Fee: £300.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00


Dr Kathryn Kelley

Kathryn Kelley holds a doctorate in Assyriology and masters in Cuneiform Studies from the Oriental Institute, Oxford University, and a BA in Near Eastern Studies from the University of British Columbia. She is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of British Columbia's department of Classics, Near Eastern and Religious Studies. Her doctoral research examined designations for gender and age in the administrative accounts that make up the earliest writing in the ancient Near East—the proto-cuneiform and proto-Elamite texts (c. 3200-2900 BC). As a specialist of Proto-Elamite, one of the ancient world's last undeciphered scripts, she continues to research methods of decipherment, including interdisciplinary collaborative work applying Natural Language Processing methods to the corpus. Kathryn's research more broadly explores the textual and archaeological evidence for social organisation and inequality in early Mesopotamia. As a collaborator with the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI) since 2010, she has digitized cuneiform tablets in museum collections, and as a research associate for the Oxford-University based project Seals and Their Impressions in the Ancient Near East, she obtained 3D and other images of thousands of ancient cylinder seals in European museum collections for online cataloguing. 

Course aims

Course Aim:

  • This course aims to introduce the archaeological and textual evidence for the world's earliest civilization and explore how it can be reconstructed to provide a rounded picture of Sumerian life, death and beliefs for those with little or no previous knowledge of the subject.

Course Objectives:

  • Gain an understanding of the social and cultural developments in Mesopotamia during the period 3500-2000 BC.
  • Become familiar with the key evidence and understand how it may be used to reconstruct Sumerian society.
  • Recognise that there are gaps in our knowledge.
  • Develop skills of observation and analysis.
  • Appreciate the legacy of Sumerian civilization in the modern world.
  • Use the course as a basis for further study of Mesopotamian history and civilizations.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts
  • Group discussions of particular issues
  • Questions to be answered in personal folders

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

  • The range of evidence for reconstructing an ancient society.
  • The general outline of the chronology and cultural and political developments in ancient Iraq (3500-2000 BC).
  • The key evidence and how it may be used to reconstruct Sumerian society.
  • The legacy of Sumerian civilization in the modern world.

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • Critical assessment of different types of evidence and their context.
  • Correlation of many threads of evidence to arrive at a narrative interpretation.
  • Present clear and rational arguments to defend the interpretation of evidence.

Assessment methods

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment of 500 words due half way through the course and one longer assignment of 1500 words due at the end of the course.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.