The Sumerians' civilization ability is Epic Quest, which provides them with a Tribal Village reward each time they capture a barbarian outpost, and halves the cost of levying city-state units. Their unique unit is the War-Cart, and their unique tile improvement is the Ziggurat.
As one of the earliest civilizations in history, it is only fitting that Sumer has one of the strongest early games. With both unique components unlocked from the moment you begin the game, Sumer is poised to rush to a lightning-fast Domination Victory.
Tribal Village reward from Barbarian Outposts
Spam War-Carts. They are available from Turn 1, and have 30 Combat Strength. In the meantime, build Ziggurats en masse and beeline Military Tradition, so that you can quickly enable the Maneuver policy card, which allows you to gain War-Carts even faster. This massive army of War-Carts should then be used to scour the map for Barbarian Outposts, which is simple thanks to their high Movement and resistance to the anti-cavalry units that inhabit the Outposts. Tribal Village rewards include free Population to train Settlers and go wide, free Gold to buy what you need, and free Envoys.
Note that in Barbarian Clans mode, this ability provides a Tribal Village reward only if you Disperse the camp. Raiding it will only provide Gold, like any other civ. Since War-Carts have no maintenance cost, Gold should not be prioritized here, and so Dispersing the camps will always be the better choice. Doing so will also provide these units with experience and, thus, Promotions, which will enable Sumeria to smash through other civilizations and steamroller toward a Domination Victory.
Levying units is cheaper
While nowhere near as powerful as Matthias Corvinus' ability, this does allow Sumeria to quickly gain a stronger military with more units. However, their legion of War-Carts will be so powerful that additional units become rather redundant. If you manage to become the Suzerain of city-state, it may come in handy, but city-state politics should not be your biggest concern in the prime of your rushing time.
Adventures of Enkidu
No penalties for declaring war on civilizations at war with an Ally
Gilgamesh's ability may seem counterintuitive. After all, what need is there for Joint Wars and Allies when it is so easy to wash away civilizations in a tide of War-Carts? But it is useful in the many cases that circumstances do not permit an early rush and you don't simply choose to restart instead. By making an alliance with a weaker neighbor, Gilgamesh can then destroy anyone who dares attack said ally without fear of retribution from the rest of the world.
However, Gilgamesh also gains an additional bonus related to combat. This ability allows Sumeria to take a backseat in war while still receiving rewards. Unfortunately, Sumeria rarely wants to take a backseat in wars, as they are so good at conquest that there are few civs that would make this worth it.
Additional Alliance points
This third part of his ability also rarely comes into play, as Alliances are probably not important to a domination powerhouse. Nevertheless, this ability does come into play if the player decides to go a more peaceful route.
Legacy of Enkidu
In the Heroes & Legends game mode, Gilgamesh gains a significantly stronger and more versatile ability. As a great hero of myth himself, it is only fitting that other heroes are attracted to Sumer - and attracted they certainly are. Gilgamesh can snap up whichever Heroes suit him with his Production bonus for a further bonus to early conquest, and use them for even longer than usual. Strong Heroes for early domination include Hippolyta, Arthur, and Mulan, whose increased Lifespan will allow her Combat Strength to grow even greater.
The War-Cart is the premier unique unit of the Ancient Era. Compared to the Heavy Chariot, it is superior in every way - it's stronger, faster, has a lower Production and no Gold maintenance cost, is available from the start of the game, and has no vulnerability to anti-cavalry units. This makes the Sumerians a terrifying early rusher. A determined player should start building War-Carts from the beginning of the game, and since many copies of this unit alone can form a powerful army, make sure not to waste your precious Production on Scouts, Warriors or Slingers. Having your most powerful asset available right from the get-go also means if you don't fully take advantage of it, your civilization will enter later stages of the game without anything going for itself.
Sumeria direly needs a successful rush with War-Carts in order to stay competitive, all other bonuses of theirs are purely complimentary and cannot win games on their own. They need to be able to secure a good foundation, starting with a vast empire next to severely weakened neighbors. For this reason, any civilization with a powerful unique unit in the Ancient Era is a baneful neighbor for Sumeria, most notably the Aztec, Gauls, and Nubia. Vietnam, thanks to their incredibly overpowered defense mechanic and starting bias, is also a nightmare for Sumeria. There is very little Sumeria can plan when spawning next to these civilizations; you have to rely on your luck (how good your starting location and Production are, and how ill-prepared your neighbors are).
Due to the nature of Sumeria and how dependent it is on a good War-Cart rush, it is one of, if not flat out the worst civilization to play on high difficulty. The higher the difficulty and the wider the map is, the worse Sumeria becomes. For example, on Deity, the AIs start with 5 Warriors, 4 global Combat Strength bonus, 50% extra experience from combat for quick healing and Promotions and 100% extra Production to build even more units. The key strategy for Deity is about catching up and trying not to confront the AIs at their strongest, a luxury that Sumeria cannot afford. They have to start their conquest directly into the AIs' walls of units, and have to rely on the AIs' inablity to properly defend themselves, and if this doesn't work out, Sumeria becomes a vanilla civilization with very little going for themselves. And of course, the wider the map is, the longer the game will last, the more time other civilizations will have to use their much more lasting bonuses. Sumeria should only be played if you want a difficult challenge, as it is not well equipped for those particular environments.
As a rule of thumb, early Science and Culture are immensely valuable, and the Ziggurat provides both yields right from the beginning of the game without any technological requirement. Since Sumeria almost certainly will devote all of its Production in War-Carts in the Ancient Era, the main purpose of the Ziggurat is to keep Sumeria from falling behind in research. As expected, it is very impactful in the Ancient Era, much less so in the Classical Era, and becomes more and more trivial as the game progresses. The Ziggurat has almost no potential of scaling, beside one extra point of Culture with Natural History, which is too late to matter. It runs into the same problem as the Kurgan, another improvement with almost no placement restriction but provides no Housing, Food, and Production: placing down too few and its effect will be negligible, but too many Ziggurats will stunt the growth and productivity of their parent cities. Finding the sweet spot of balance for this improvement is another conundrum, as it is available at the same time as your strong but expensive unique unit, both of which need to be immediately put into work, otherwise, your civilization will progress as if they were a vanilla civilization without any meaningful bonus. To make a problem harder, the point of availability is right from the beginning of the game, when you have no infrastructure to support the training of War-Carts, Builders, Settlers and building Districts at the same time.
The easiest way to use the Ziggurat is to build one next to a river whenever you train or capture a Builder in the Ancient Era. Using 1 out 3 build charge is recommended because it is not too overboard, and Science and Culture at this point are crucial to keep you competitive during your early conquest. After the Ancient Era, you should capitalize on the vast empire the War-Cart is able to secure and try to generate Science and Culture efficiently from Districts and not waste too much space on Ziggurats. Also, since riverside tiles are ideal sites for a lot of Districts, feel free to replace Ziggurats with high adjacency Districts later.
You can add a bit more mileage to this improvement by trying to obtain as many percentage based modifiers as you can. The most significant and obvious source is from Pingala, who provides 15% extra Science and Culture to his host city, a bonus that goes very well with the early availability of the Ziggurat. Later in the game, other more powerful modifiers such as Kilwa Kisiwani, Oxford University, Broadway, etc also become available, but of course, at this point, the yields from the Ziggurat are almost negligible, so these wonders are only meaningful if you have a vast empire with good District placement. In summary, just like the rest of the Sumerian toolkit, the sole purpose of the Ziggurat is to lay a sound foundation upon which you can build your empire, it is not the kind of improvements that have long lasting effects that you can rely on after Classical Era.
Push for a Domination Victory as hard as you can in the Ancient and Classical Eras. There's no consistently reliable counter to the War-Cart at the beginning of the game, so your neighbors won't have much hope of surviving a War-Cart rush. If you haven't won by then, take stock of your situation, and decide whether to continue on the domination path or change to a different victory type. If you decide to change, settle as many cities as possible near Rivers and build Ziggurats on every available bit of flatland along their banks. This will boost your Science and Culture output (especially after you discover Natural History), allowing you to discover new technologies quickly and putting you on track for either a Science or Culture Victory later in the game.
The Gilgamesh AI has one fatal weakness: his agenda. As long as you can Declare Friendship with Gilgamesh, he will accept. Since Sumeria's bonuses are mostly geared towards a Domination Victory, just constantly Declare Friendship with him and you can keep him in check.
Never really a kingdom nor empire, more a collection of city-states with common customs and a sometimes central authority, Sumeria nevertheless is considered the world’s first “civilization.” Kingship (or more precisely, hegemony) came to be conferred by the priesthood, which tended to create successive short-lived dynasties from the rulers of established and influential city-states: Kish, Lagash, Ur, Uruk, Adab and so forth. At some point before 3000 BC, the Sumerians developed a written language (well, a logographic in their proto-literate period), so at least historians have some idea of what they were doing.
From these writings, and archaeological evidence in case there’s any doubt, it seems the Ubaidians were the first civilizing (standards for civilization not being high) force in the region that came to be named Sumer. They drained marshes along the River Euphrates, built mudbrick huts and walls, irrigated fields, developed weaving, leatherwork, masonry and pottery, and a written language. In time, they acquired another trait of civilized societies – the use of slaves, captured in the hill country to the north. Then they built a few towns, generally temple-centered with a central administration of some sort (usually a priest-king with a bunch of elderly advisers). With all this urbanization, Sumerian civilization finally coalesced sometime around the fourth millennia BC.
The evolution of the priest-kings into just plain autocratic kings occurred sometime around 2900 BC and begins the “Dynastic Period” of Sumer, recounted in the lengthy Sumerian King List. A number of dynasties held the kingship of Sumer for several years, and often multiple times (there were, for instance, five dynasties of Uruk and three of Kish). Hegemony over the city-state collective was conferred by the priesthood in holy Nippur. It is likely that the authority of the Sumerian king tended to be limited – except in his own city – but he was tasked with maintaining tranquility throughout Sumer nonetheless.
It appears they didn’t do a very good job. As the various surviving bits of writing and monuments show, the next few hundred years were marked by increasing violence, attested to by the building of high walls (like Gilgamesh did for his city of Uruk) and the disappearance of small villages in southern Mesopotamia. In time, the more influential city-states banded together for purposes of trade and defense. Also, in time, it was inevitable that some city-state would seek to lord it over the others permanently … by force of arms.
First to succeed was the dynasty of Lagash (c. 2500-2270), in the person of Eannatum, who annexed practically all of Sumer – Kish, Uruk, Larsa, and others – as well as reducing to a tribute client the city of Umma, Lagash’s arch-rival. The Lagash kings seemed to have used terror as a matter of state policy; the aptly-labelled Stele of Vultures depicts what happened to enemies of Lagash (it wasn’t nice). Eventually, the kings of Umma overthrew Lagash, conquered Uruk to make it the capital of their realm, which they claimed reached from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. The Ummans were the last ethnic Sumerians to rule before the Akkadian Sargon the Great swept in.
From this point on, the fates of the non-Semite Sumerians and the Semitic Akkadians are inextricably intertwined. The Akkadian Empire reached its peak c. 2400 BC when Sargon’s superior troops overran most of the city-states they could reach. Bowing to the inevitable (and with Akkadians occupying Nippur that was prudent), the priesthood acknowledged the Akkadian hegemony over Sumer. The Semitic Akkadian language supplanted native Sumerian, which became over time a “literary language.” Akkadian customs mutated into Sumerian customs, and the religions blended into one pantheon.
Everything went smoothly for all concerned (save perhaps the slaves and peasants) until the Akkadian Empire collapsed, ushering in a regional Dark Age that lasted until the rise of the Third Dynasty of Ur around 2112 BC. It was a period of anarchy. Irrigation systems collapsed; fields lay fallow; and the barbarian Guti tribes from the Zagros Mountains swept over Sumer. These Gutians seemed to have had little regard for the niceties of civilization. Having installed themselves as rulers in most of the city-states, they showed no concern for agriculture, written records or public safety. They reputedly had all the Sumerian livestock released to wander freely; coupled with a severe decades-long drought and rocketing grain prices, this led to famine throughout the region.
In the midst of all this, the capital at Akkad was sacked – multiple times – so thoroughly (barbarians are really good at sacking) that its ruins remain undiscovered. Taking advantage of all this confusion, several of the more southerly Sumerian city-states managed to re-establish independent rule. As the Gutians, unable to handle all this domesticity, withdrew, the dynasty in Lagash rose to local prominence yet again. Around 2093 BC or so, the Lagash dynasty – now claiming descent from divinity – was declared by the Nippurian priests to have primacy over all others.
It didn’t last long, though. Within 50 years the second Lagash dynasty was replaced by the third dynasty of Ur, under the kings Ur-Nammu and his son Shulgi. When Utu-Hengal of Uruk (the next dynasty after Lagash) defeated the remnants of the Gutians under their last king Tirigan, Sumer was back. But the fifth Uruk dynasty ended abruptly after seven years (according to the King List) with the ascension of Ur-Nammu. Circumstances are hazy; some historians hypothesize a revolt by Ur, others believe that Nammu was somehow related to Hengal and became king peacefully. Whatever the case, Nammu and his son conquered or coerced all the city-states as far as northern Mesopotamia to take part in the “Sumerian Renaissance.”
The Renaissance saw refinement return, new stelae appear all over the place, religion rebounds after those atheist Guti left, agriculture flourishes again, and that cornerstone of civilization – a code of law – comes in the form of the Code of Ur-Nammu which set out a long list of crimes and prescribed punishments (mostly monetary, although leavened with some executions and limbs chopped off). Nammu also undertook great engineering projects, and art and literary works were sponsored by the wealthy. Developments in architecture and sculpture were especially noteworthy (the Ziggurat of Ur being one such accomplishment). So advanced was this age that it has come to termed Neo-Sumeria by historians just so they can keep track of it.
Shulgi outdid his illustrious father. He took decisive steps to formalize the procedures of his administration centered in the capital of Ur. He is credited with standardizing the bureaucracy, archival documentation, the tax system, and the calendar – all for which modern civilization should thank him. He established a standing army for his realm, putting all those well-documented taxes to work. So impressed was the priesthood that Shulgi was deified while he was still alive, which, unlike the present age, was a very rare honor.
But by the time of his grandson Ibbi-Sin, who ascended to the kingship in 1963 BC, things weren’t so rosy for Sumeria. Over the first twenty years of his reign, repeated raids and invasions by the warlike Amorites brought a growing lack of faith among his subjects in his ability to lead. Elam declared its independence and joined the general raiding of trade caravans and unguarded settlements. Things got worse. Ibbi-Sin fortified the areas around Ur and Nippur, without much effect.
Since the king didn’t seem to be able to defend Sumer, more and more city-states followed Elam’s lead and broke away from the tottering hegemony. The price of grain increased by 60 times the usual; plague ravaged several city-states; the Four Horsemen were abroad in Sumeria. In the last years of Sumeria, Ibbi-Sin governed only his own city-state of Ur. In 1940 BC, an Elamite army along with “wild” tribesmen from the Zagros sacked Ur and took Ibbn-Sin captive. He was taken to Elam and imprisoned, and died shortly thereafter (the cause of his untimely end isn’t recorded).
The glory of Sumer had passed. But its accomplishments – mostly because they were the first – have stood the test of time. The pundit Samuel Noah Kramer lists 39 in his seminal work, History Begins at Sumer, such as...
The Sumerians, farming in a semi-arid land along rivers, were the first to build irrigation ditches, canals and eventually reservoirs. While perhaps not the first to develop writing, they were certainly the most proficient at it – for many centuries, in fact – and they wrote everything down so it could be remembered by future generations. And they were the first to store all this scribbling, in depositories (so, the first “libraries"). In the process, they were also the first to develop all sorts of literary forms: love poetry, heroic tales, animal fables, autobiographies, elegies, and so forth.
What with all this writing, the Sumerians also developed the concept of a written contract (it goes without saying these got stored in the depositories so one could not wiggle out of an agreement), and that boon to finance “credit.” The idea that one only had to initially pay some of the asking price and “owe” the rest certainly spurred the Sumerian economy, if not all that attractive to sellers. They standardized numbers in order that one could keep track of all this. And so payments would be made in an orderly fashion, the Sumerians also were the first to divide the year into months and the day into standard increments.
Additionally, they were the first civilization to put the wheel to good use. Carts had wheels; plows had wheels; chariots had wheels. Trade, farming, and war didn’t take so long anymore. If the Sumerians didn’t invent the wheel (and historians have debated this point ad nauseum), they certainly found lots of uses for it. Too bad they didn’t have many horses.
The list of “firsts” goes on.
In the end, though, it was their lack of decent building materials – mudbricks just don’t make very tall or sturdy walls to keep out all those barbarians from the north, south and east – that brought about their downfall. In time, though, the Babylonian and the Assyrian empires would owe their formation to Sumer, the true “cradle of civilization.”
- Main article: Sumerian cities (Civ6)
|Males||Females||Modern males||Modern females|
- The Sumerian civilization's symbol is the cuneiform logogram "AN" or "DINGiR" (𒀭), which was either the word for the sky, or a written determinative before the names of any of the Sumerian divinities, respectively.
- The Sumerian civilization ability references the plot of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
- The Sumerian civilization is the only civilization in Civilization VI to lack ambient music. This may be because the Hurrian hymn to Nikkal (the song upon which its main theme is based) is the only extant song from Sumerian culture.
- The first paragraph of the Civilopedia entry for Sumer erroneously refers to it as Sumeria. This mistake is not present in later paragraphs.
Achieve the maximum Alliance level with Gilgamesh
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