Over time, ancient Sumerian society became divided into social classes, or groups with different levels of importance. The highest social class in Sumer was made up of the king, priests, and other important leaders and their families.
Only a few of Sumer's people were leaders and priests. Most were members of the middle class. The social ranking of a person within this class was probably based on the amount of property owned or a family's standing in the community.
A division of labor meant that Sumerians held a variety of jobs. Some earned a living as merchants or managers. Others worked as carpenters, potters, bricklayers, doctors, or scribes. A scribe was a person who wrote things for others. Writing was a valuable skill in Sumer at a time when most people including kings could neither read nor write. Sumerian scribes kept records, wrote letters for other people, and copied down stories and songs. Scribes and other working people exchanged their services or the goods they made for the services and goods they needed.
Slaves made up the lowest class in Sumerian society. Most slaves were prisoners of war. Others were enslaved as punishment for crimes or to pay off debts. Slaves within Sumerian society were not enslaved for life. For example, those who owed a debt could gain their freedom when the debt was paid.
In all classes of Sumerian society, men had more authority and more rights than women. Men controlled their households and could divorce their wives for any
reason. Men also held most of the leadership roles in Sumer.
However, women could serve as leaders and many did. Sumerian women often held high office as religious leaders. In fact, the female high priest at the ancient city-state of Ur was second in power only to the king. In addition, some Sumerian women were trained to be scribes.
For the most part women in ancient Sumer had more rights and freedoms than women in other ancient civilizations.
Unlike in many early civilizations, the women of ancient Sumer were allowed to own property, divorce cruel husbands, and own businesses.
What kind of leadership role did women often fill?