Art and Artisans
- Artisans were important people in ancient Mesopotamia as the objects they created were not only useful for the everyday lives of ordinary people and the upper classes, but they were often very beautiful and help us better understand our ancient history.
- In today’s society we make a distinction between artisans who make craft items usually with a practical purpose and artists whose work involves a much higher level of skill. In Mesopotamia there was no such distinction.
- Sculpture was an important form of art, especially in work done for the kings. Mesopotamian palaces often had sculptures of animals, such as lions, at the entrances. Sometimes there were sculptures of kings themselves made in bronze.
- Another form of art that was used to make kings look impressive was the relief, which was a flat slab with images of people carved into the clay. In Mesopotamia these reliefs often showed the story of great battles and conquests.
- The development of pottery was of great value to the Mesopotamian people as it led to the production of many everyday practical items.
- The clay needed for pottery was in ready supply near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. In the early days, potters would make pots entirely with their bare hands pushing a hole into a ball of clay.
- Later the potter’s wheel was developed. This was a turntable that sped up the production process. They also learned how to harden the clay using high-temperature ovens.
- This allowed for the mass production of pots, bowls, dishes and so on. Fine vases were also produced for the rich to display in their homes. The pots were glazed and had a range of patterns on them.
- Mesopotamia artisans became highly skilled jewellery makers. They worked with gold and silver and learned how to hammer it into a flat shape. The precious blue gemstone lapis lazuli was especially popular. They could engrave and make hinges and clasps. They made rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces among other items.
- Both men and women wore jewellery in Mesopotamia. It was often used as a gift between a married couple. Kings liked to exchange jewellery too as it was seen as prestigious.
- British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley discovered the graves of 16 kings and queens at the city of Ur between 1926 and 1932. He discovered jewellery of highest level in these graves. Among the finds were an elaborate headdress of golden flowers and a spool of silver hair ribbon.
- Metalwork was an especially important craft for the Mesopotamians because it helped them develop in many ways.
- It was used for farming as metal plows were created which allowed farmers to do their work more efficiently.
- Another important use of metal was in warfare. Metalworkers learned how to make bronze by mixing copper and tin. This was used to make swords, helmets and armour, as was iron later on. These objects were made by heating metals until they turned into liquid and then pouring that liquid into moulds where the object was shaped.
- Weaving is a process whereby long, thin materials, such as thread, are woven together to make clothing or baskets.
- In Ancient Mesopotamia weaving was a major industry and the weaving was usually done by women and children.
- People would use the hair or wool from sheep and goats to make a wide variety of textiles. First the weavers would clean and untangle the wool. Then the threads were wound onto wooden spindles and the threads were laced together.
- When the weavers had finished the material was passed on to fullers who cleaned and dyed the fabrics. The most popular textile colour was purple because it was seen as a royal colour.
- Carpenters were also very important in ancient Mesopotamia. Unlike weavers, carpenters were usually men.
- Wood, such as cedar and beech, was often not available locally so huge tree trunks were floated down the river on rafts from forested areas such as Syria.
- Carpenters then cut up the tree trunks to make and shape a wide range of objects. They made ships, bridges, chariots, but also smaller items. Carpenters were required for building temples and palaces to make grand doors or special furniture adorned with gold, silver and ivory.
- All these artisans along with others, such as stone masons, glassmakers, leatherworkers, basket makers and blacksmiths, were pioneers. Later civilisations learned these skills and developed them.