crafts and craftspeople

   Some basic and essential crafts, such as pottery, leatherwork, brick making, and basket making, developed very early in Mesopotamia, in the late Stone Age (or Neolithic Age, ca. 10,000-6,000 b.c.). Crude forms of a few crafts - leatherworking, for example - likely existed a good deal earlier. With the development of cities by the Sumerians in the fourth and third millennia b.c. and their continued growth under the Akkadians, the Babylonians, and the Assyrians, a wide range of crafts developed. Some achieved high levels of refinement by the second millennium b.c. The major craftspeople in the large Mesopotamian cities included potters; stonemasons; sculptors; architects; brick makers; carpenters and house builders; painters; metalworkers, including specialists in bronze, silver, and gold; bakers and brewers; glassmakers; leatherworkers; weavers and basket makers; jewelers; seal makers, sometimes called seal cutters; wagon makers; shipwrights; blacksmiths; and fullers, who cleaned and dyed fabrics.
   Most of these workers belonged to the lower classes or occasionally to the middle class. They made things individually, by hand, and did not make very much profit from any single item; thus, rich artists or craftspeople with their own companies and mass-market products did not exist in ancient Mesopotamia or anywhere else in the ancient world. The vast majority of craftspeople employed the apprentice system, in which a father passed his knowledge and skills on to his sons or other male relatives. Apprenticeships were typically long - up to eight years for a house builder and up to four for a seal maker. Many craftspeople plied their trades in their homes. However, workshops employing several or even dozens of people (the ancient version of factories) existed in the larger Mesopotamian cities. Evidence has been found of a jewelry workshop at Ur; a larger workshop in that city featured workers with assorted skills - among them metalworkers, sculptors, blacksmiths, carpenters, and basket makers.
   Some workers were organized into guilds, although these were not unions that staged strikes to achieve political goals like many modern versions. An ancient Meso-potamian craft guild was more of a brotherhood of like-minded or like-skilled people. Each had an administrator who answered to the authority of the local royal palace. Individual artists and workers within the guild could achieve some measure of popularity, fame, and independence. But the guilds themselves could not become independent of government control because in most cases only the government had the financial and other means of obtaining the necessary raw materials.
   Although ancient guilds differed from modern ones, the modern phenomenon of craft specialization, including within a single worksite, was very much in evidence in ancient Mesopotamia. For example, when a temple or other public building was under construction, architects, brick makers, sculptors, painters, carpenters, and others took part, all working only within their areas of specialty. Carpenters specialized in building the doors, door frames, and roof, for example.
   Carpentry was typically a male profession. By contrast, weavers were mostly women. They used looms, at first a horizontal version set up on the floor or ground. Later they employed a vertical loom, essentially the same as the kind used in Egypt, Greece, and other parts of the ancient world. Fullers not only cleaned the fabrics made by weavers, but they also dyed them using a variety of colors derived from animal, plant, and mineral products. The most coveted textile dye was a purple one derived from a mollusk, supplies of which came mainly from Phoenicia on the eastern Mediterranean coast. (Purple was seen as a "royal" hue in ancient times.)
   The fabrics made and dyed by weavers and fullers are examples of craft products used by people at all levels of society. Similarly, basket makers, whose work was related in some ways to that of weavers (since one group wove thread, the other reeds or hemp), created numerous products used by people of all walks of life. In addition to baskets, these included boxes of all sizes, small boats used by fishermen in marshy regions, reed mats for floors and beds, chairs and other furniture items, inexpensive coffins, and doghouses. The products of leatherworkers were no less diverse and practical. These craftspeople not only cleaned and tanned animal skins using tree bark, fats, oils, and other products, but they also fashioned sandals, boots, straps for armor and helmets, quivers for arrows, horse bridles, and chariot linings. In contrast, some craftspeople specialized in a single product. A good example was the seal maker, who created the rounded clay stamps people used to make their individual marks on clay tablets and other documents. For more details on several of the leading Mesopotamian crafts and their products,

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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