Mesopotamia History Unit
This month your children learn about The Revenge of Ishtar in this Mesopotamia History Unit including:
- Make a snack from foods found at the time of Gilgamesh: goat’s yogurt, honey and banana
- Read The Revenge of Ishtar, discuss and complete some copywork
- Map countries surrounding Mesopotamia
- Learn about games, music and sport; make the Royal Game of Ur and play it
- Learn about Mesopotamian relief art by studying the pictures in the book and making a raised relief
- Ancient Mesopotamia Food
The Revenge of Ishtar
This month we will be continuing through the epic of Gilgamesh by reading the second book The Revenge of Ishtar:
This book covers the adventures of both Gilgamesh and his best friend Enkidu, as they attempt to avenge the death of Shamhat, Enkidu’s love. The friends stick together as they battle monsters, but there is one monster they can not overcome – Death. Enkidu is killed by Ishtar’s hand when Gilgamesh refuses to leave him and marry Ishtar. A devastated Gilgamesh swears to himself that he will seek out the secret of immortality which will be his ‘Last Quest’ (the third book in the series)
The pictures and words of this second book are powerful and I have used them to guide our learning.
Ancient Mesopotamia Food
This month’s recipe is a simple combination of foods that were grown/created during ancient Mesopotamian times. The bananas would have been imported from India, but were a fairly common food; honey would have been made by the bees of the area; the Mesopotamian families would have made goat’s yogurt from their own goat’s milk. Combine together goat’s yogurt, sliced banana and honey to enjoy whilst listening to the Revenge of Ishtar
I chose a few key passages for A7 to copy. The Revenge of Ishtar has plenty of potentially big issues to choose from to discuss. Pick whatever you think is appropriate for your child. You might want to include:
- Compared your own monotheistic faith with the Mesopotamia’s polytheistic one.
- Discussed how sometimes animate monsters were used to describe inanimate events which the people of ancient Mesopotamia didn’t quite understand. For example the earth quake which caused the city walls to collapse on page 3 was blamed on the monster Humbaba and likewise the volcano on page 7
- Talk about the special friendship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh, and how as a team they were stronger and more powerful than they were by themselves
- Briefly touched on the fear of death and dying; and man’s need to conquer both.
After studying the map on page 6 of Eyewitness Mesopotamia book, A7 labelled the areas surrounding Ancient Mesopotamia on our paper mache map. This was to help her to put Mesopotamia geographically into perspective. She added Egypt, Mediterranean sea, Arabian desert, Persia and Anatolia. We compared her map to a modern map of the area and I pointed out that Persia was modern day Iran and Anatolia was modern day Turkey.
Royal Game of Ur
On the first double page in The Revenge of Ishtar the illustration shows Gilgamesh and Enkidu playing a game which has become known as the Royal Game of Ur. I read out pages 26 and 27 of the Eyewitness Mesopotamia book about games, music and sport.
Using the photo in the Eyewitness book, I cut out 20 squares and decorated them in a similar way to the original board. I asked the girls to decorate each set of patterned squares the same:
Together we stuck the colored, patterned squares in the same arrangement as the game in the photo. I had collected 14 pebbles, half of which the girls marked with a black circle:
We played the game according to the rules found in the Eyewitness book.
Art Study: Raised Reliefs
I love to learn about the art of any time period we are studying, and thankfully my children feel the same way. First I pointed out the relief art on pages 19 and 20 of the Revenge of Ishtar. Relief art is a form of sculpture. There are two main forms: a sunken relief whereby the image is sculpted into the plane of the surface of the clay, with none of the image protruding past that surface ie the image is sunk into the clay; and a bas-relief (also known as a raised relief or low relief), whereby the image is projecting out from the clay just a small amount. The examples in the picture book are of raised reliefs and so it is these we focused our study on.
I already had some photos of a raised relief from Mesopotamia which I had taken a few years ago during a visit to the London History Museum. The girls and I studied these, alongside the one’s in the picture book:
I read out pages 28 and 29 from Eyewitness Mesopotamia, but there was little said about relief art. If you have time, I recommend flicking through the book because there are many examples scattered throughout. Once I was sure the girls understood what was meant by the term ‘raised relief’, I gathered some supplies to create our own.
Mesopotamia Raised Relief
For this activity you need clay, a rolling pin and some clay tools. Roll out your clay until it is about half an inch thick. Mark out the image you wish to sculpt – we chose two of the animals from the illustration of the Ishtar gate on page 17 of the Revenge of Ishtar for simplicity. For my youngest I simply drew two hearts. Using the tools, scrap away the clay surrounding the image, using your fingers to flatten and smooth.
And the final product:
Join us next month as we finish off this unit study by learning about Cuneiform, an ancient Mesopotamia form of writing, as we read through the third and final book, The Last Quest of Gilgamesh.