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Sumerian Influence on Ancient Greek Civilization

By Mehmet Kurtkaya, Updated on October 7, 2017

Sumerian influence on Ancient Greece is seldom mentioned but there are books and articles covering this subject. And even books and articles citing Sumerian civilization among the foundations of "the West" such as: Greek and Mesopotamian States

German mathematician Franz Lemmermeyer's Sumerian traces in Archimedes' Cattle Problem is interesting not only for its content but also for the ridiculous referee rejection letter it was met with. The article mentions mathematics related lines from a song dedicated to Sumerian Moon God Nanna and shows major similarities to the lines from Homer's Odyssey and Archimedes' cattle problem.

Sumerian Mythology influenced Greek Mythology

Lemmermeyer also mentions a book on Babylonian mythological influences on Homer's Iliad and Odyssey that "needs to be read from cover to cover": Die Griechen und der Orient Von Homer bis zu den Magiern (English: Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis Eastern Contexts of Greek Culture ) published in 2004 by the late German professor Walter Burkert.

As early as 1966, Martin Litchfield observed that “Greek literature is a Near Eastern literature” and wrote books along this line: Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient (1971) and The East Face of Helicon (1997).

American author Charles Penglase has a 1997 book on the same subject: Greek Myths and Mesopotamia: Parallels and Influence in the Homeric Hymns and Hesiod)

Most recently, in 2016, Mary Bachvarova has published From Hittite to Homer: The Anatolian Background of Ancient Greek Epic

While most of the current academic work involving Near Eastern influence on Ancient Greece show mostly Hittite / Hurrian and Akkadian/ Babylonian foundations, these civilizations owe at least major parts of their mythology to the Sumerians, including the Epic of Gilgamesh / Bilgemesh, their gods, and mythical stories. Sumerian predate other civilizations by hundreds, in some cases by thousands of years.

Sumerian Influence is not confined to Mythology!

There are more proofs showing the propagation of civilization from Sumer towards Anatolian (Turkey), Greek and Etruscan (Italian) lands, such as the liver consultation.

This was the practice of examining the liver of a sacrificied animal in order to receive messages from gods. These messages would be used by the rulers in decision making: before going to war, signing a peace treaty, or when selecting cultic personel.

This practice originated in Sumer, then was continued by the Babylonians and then propagated to Ancient Greece and Rome! See an important work on this subject by Nicholas Gill, supervised by Dr. Fabio Colivicci Liver Consultation in Babylonia, Greece and Etruria

See more on ancient Roman divination practices at Sumerian influence on Ancient Rome

Babylone is based on Sumer!

I should, at this point, add that everything Babylonian is based on Sumerians, and this is a universally known fact, though rarely mentioned in such clarity. Babylonians have built upon Sumerian civilization for the better, and sometimes for the worse, after Babylonian King Hammurabi's conquest of Sumer.

Akkadians (later named Babylonians) were originally hunter-gatherers and desert nomads, hence local people who, over more than a 1000 years' period, blended into Sumerian society and lived in their cities. In time, some Akkadians became Sumerian kings! Babylonia lasted only about 400 years. Compare that to over 2,200 years of Sumerian civilization before Babylon was formed over Sumer lands.

Greek Star names, Zodiac signs are based on Sumerian!

Important article by G.Kurtik and Alexander Militarev (Moscow) From Mesopotamia to Greece: Origin of Semitic and Greek Star names Check your zodiac sign!

Mycenaean Greece

Long before Classical Greece there was Mycenaean Greece whose myths and folklore made the bulk of the Ancient Greek mythology.

Mycenaean Golden Bull Head (Similar to the Sumerian Golden bull head).

From Mycenae to Homer: A Study in Early Greek Literature and Art published in 1958 by T. B. L. Webster proves how Mycenean Greece is influenced by Sumerian, Babylonian, Hittite, Hurrian, Egyptian myths including the myths of Bilgemesh (Gilgamesh).

A recent Smithsonian article tells of a 2015 find, the most fascinating Greek archaeological dig in decades: Golden Warrior in Greek Tomb exposes roots of Western Civilization. This is a major article with a broader look in to Ancient Greece and its roots.

The only thing that is annoying in the article is the idea that "Mycenaean Greek civilization (1600-1100 BC) came out of nowhere".

Out of Nowhere

"Out of nowhere" is a leitmotiv in Western history books and academic circles. Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Gur (Hurrian), Etruscan, Indus Valley, and most other ancient civilizations supposedly all came out of nowhere!

Moreover, most of those great civilizations supposedly disappeared without leaving any trace! So, the Western take on history is full of neighboring civilizations especially in Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia (Iraq), Syria, and Iran, that all come and go like ghosts! Worst of all, supposedly they are all isolate. One probably can't sell all that as a Hollywood script, but it works for universities in the US (Harvard et al.) and EU.

In times of real Western fake news, one should not expect much!

Greek and Gur (Hurrian) Mythology similarities

Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, as well as major Greek gods, are largely based on another, prior civilization. This is not new ground.

German scholar H.G. Guterbock revealed major similarities between Ancient Greek and Gur / Hurrian mythology from neighboring Turkey with Kumarbi in his book Mythen um Churritischen Kronos, published in 1946. And we know for sure that Gur was an advanced civilization, at times on par with Sumer as Urkesh finds proved thanks to Bucellati's work. And we know that all copper related terms in Sumer comes from Gur (Hurrian) language!

Minoan Greece and Gur / Hurrian relations

camp stool fresco
Striking similarity to Sumerian and Egyptian art is not a coincidence (Image from Wikimedia, by Zde)

Case for Minoan as Greater Hurrian is an interesting article for the origins of Minoan Crete island civilization. Minoan Greece 3100 BC, could be of Gur (Hurrian) or Sumerian or even Hatti / Gud origin. Bull cult Taru, similar to Cretean Minotaur, can be found in both Mesopotamia (Sumer) and Anatolia.

Also see Hurrian - Minoan Greece language comparisons :

Minoan Script, Hurrians and Hurrian Language A site dedicated to analyze Minoan A Linear script using Gur / Hurrian language and a book by Peter G. Van Soesbergen.

A comparative linguistic study about the Sumerian Influence on the creation of the Aegean Scripts Minoan Language, Linear A, Linear B and Cretan Hieroglyphs

Sumerian influence on Crete

Ancient Greek is largely based on a Pre-Greek language

This fact is not discussed enough. It is well known since Furnee's 1972 work and then late Indo-European scholar Robert Beekes's work in the 2000s especially his book "Pre-Greek: Phonology, Morphology, Lexicon" that ancient Greek language is based on a non-Indo-European language. Since we know that the founders of Ancient Greece migrated from Anatolia to Greece 5000-3000 years ago this language must have been spoken in Anatolia (Turkey)!

There were only two non-Indo-European languages spoken in Anatolia some 5000 years ago: the languages of the Gat (Hatti) and Gur (Hurrian). Moreover it has been reported in the past that pre-Greek has similiarities to some Caucasian languages as well as Turuk (eTursci, Etruscan) and other Tyrrhenian languages such as Lemnian, Raetic and Camunic. This is well in line with known Eurasian migrations.

A good wrap-up of current and previous studies as well as some suggestions on potential research about Pre-Greek by Gianpolo Tardivo.

Are Gur (Hurrian) founders of Ancient Greece ?

That's what I think, but that hypothesis needs a full spectrum comparison between Hurrian civilization and Ancient Greece. Hopefully there will be more people working in this field. I have already listed some scholarly work (since 1946 at least) on Hurrian Greece comparison above.

In fact, even the sound Gr in the word Greek was probably originally Gur as follows: (Gur-uk or Gur-ak => Greek ?) !

Now, that's my hypothesis but there is one indisputable fact: all their artifacts, cities, and their mythology prove beyond any doubt that Hurrians are the most under-appreciated ancient civilization on earth along with the Sumerians. Luckily, at least the world's oldest notated song, hymn is Gur / Hurrian so at least this Hurrian work gets some attention on the internet.

Gur (Hurrians) seem to be the go-between for the Sumerian civilization and Ancient Greece, as Gur people lived in Turkey for thousands of years and were contemporaries to both Sumer (Iraq) and Ancient Greece. And Turkey neighbors both Greece and Iraq.

In short, Gur (Hurrians) may be the missing link between Sumer and Ancient Greek civilizations!

How did Sumerian civilization influence Ancient Greece?

This is a very important topic with some info/links above.

The late British archaeologist James Mellaart's important 1958 article The End of The Early Bronze Age in Anatolia and the Aegean also offers valuable information on the origins of the Greek language and the Ancient Greek civilization! (Special thanks to Dr. Metin Gunduz for the tip). And the classical Greece is formed 200 years after the Late Bronze Age collapse documented in Anatolia and the neighboring lands.

Unfortunately, academicians rarely work on this subject.

Latest Update of Ancient Greece Sumerian relations page on August 2017:

Latest genetic research proves my theory that Gur (Hurrians), probably along with Gat (Hatti people who formed the substratum of the Hittite Empire), were the founders of Ancient Greece: Founders of Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations migrated from Turkey!

From the Sciencemag article : "The Mycenaeans did have an important difference: They had some DNA—4% to 16%—from northern ancestors who came from Eastern Europe or Siberia."

Read the original article from Nature

The above study (2017) was done on grave remains. In 2008, a genetic study that involved populations of Crete and the Near East showed that the country’s neolithic population came to Greece by sea from Anatolia – modern-day Iran, Iraq and Syria – and not from Africa as maintained by US scholar Martin Bernal. Read more about the study at: Minoan DNA results

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