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The Social Class Structures Sociology Essay

The Sumerian civilization was one of the earliest in Mesopotamia. The Sumerians existed around 3500-1750 B.C. The Sumerian civilization was not discovered until the 19th century. The following manuscript will cover three key topics the Sumerian Creation Story, the compared social class system to the contemporary United States, and how the hierarchical structure set forth by the Sumerian Empire compares with our current criminal justice system. Lastly, the educational material will show the similarities and differences between the ancient Sumerian Empire and today’s contemporary United States. This research will help individuals understand early civilizations and how they compare to today’s society. The information discovered will also show how early civilizations built their societies.

The Social Class Structures and Criminal Justice Systems of Sumerian and the United States

Sumer was a collection of city states around the Lower Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now southern Iraq. It was a collection of farming villages. Each of these cities had individual rulers; although the leader of the dominant city could have been considered the king of the region. The Sumerians formed the earliest written language. Their religious beliefs also are found to have some similarities with the Bible, especially the book of Genesis.

This essay will compare and contrast the Sumerian Empire and the United States. To compare and contrast the two the Sumerian Creation, social classes, and criminal justice system will be assessed. First, I will evaluate the story of the Sumerian Creation. Next, I will compare the different social classes between the Sumerian civilization and the United States. Lastly, I will discuss the hierarchical structure set forth by the Sumerian Empire compared to our current criminal justice system.

Literature Review

This literature review focuses on literature regarding Sumer and the Sumerian

Creation Story, particularly focusing on the Sumerian social class hierarchy.

Additionally, this literature review examines the contemporary social structure in the

United States and the current criminal justice system.

Sumerian Creation Story

The Sumerians Creation Story begins with the earth and the heavens being created in the sea. The Sumerian myths have been pieced together due to the age of the remains found. After the earth and the heavens were created the gods created cities and each city had its own god. The male god, “An”, and the female god, “Ki”, gave birth to Enlil, the chief god of the pantheon. Enlil impregnated Ninlil, the goddess of wind, which created the moon. When the moon was created then it was time to create humans. The Sumerian gods created some humans out of silt or clay.

From the evaluation of the Sumerians Creation Story similarities to the Bible can be found. As in Genesis, the Sumerians’ world is formed the heavens and earth are separated from one another by a solid dome. The second chapter of Genesis introduces the paradise Eden, a place which is similar to the Sumerian Dilmun. (Gen. 2:9-10) In the second version of the creation of man “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” The Sumerian gods used a similar method in creating man (Kramer & Maier p. 33).

Sumerian and United States: Social Class

The Sumerian social class is split into three social groups. These social groups consist of upper class, in-between class or middle class, and lowest class. At the top of the Sumerian upper class is the king and priests. The upper class also included landowners, government officials, and merchants. Something that stood out in the Sumerian social class was that women had more rights in early Sumer than in later Mesopotamia. Upper class women were priestesses. The Sumerian women were landowners, merchants, artisans, and most raised children. Slaves made up the lowest class along with prisoners, orphans, poor children, and debtors. The Sumerians used slaves as cheap labor. Sumerians allowed slaves the right to do business, borrow money, and buy freedom.

In the United States the economists and sociologists have not devised exact guidelines for the social classes. Instead there are two set classes including the three-class model that consist of the rich, middle class, and the poor. In the three-class model the rich of course have the wealth, middle class consist of those who work white collar jobs, and the poor are the blue collar workers or those who are unemployed. The other model that is most commonly used is the five-class model including upper class, upper-middle, middle-middle, lower-middle, and lower class. In the five-class model it is broke down a little more. The upper class term is applied to the “blue bloods” who are the families who are multi-generational wealth. These families also have leadership in high society. The rest of the upper class is followed by those who have made significant investment off of capital and stock options as well as the corporate elite who have high salary jobs such as being a Chief Executive Officers (CEO). The upper middle class consists of highly-educated salaried professional: physicians, lawyers, scientists, and professors. The upper middle class tends to have a great influence over society. The middle class and the lower middle class seem to overlap. The middle class consists of semi-professionals, craftsmen, office staff, and sales employees. These people often have college degrees. The lower middle class often includes the same professions except for those in the lower middle class do not have a college degree. Those without the college degree are often on the entry level in those careers. The low class is the blue collar workers. These blue collar workers are considered the working poor. Most of the population in the United States is considered the working class or the working poor.

Sumerian and United States: Criminal Justice System

The Sumerian legal system, one of the earliest known criminal justice systems,

focused on a citizen’s compliance with the social norms and religious beliefs of the day.

Regardless of social class, strict compliance with orders and instructions was rewarded,

while failure to comply was punished (Sterba, 1976, p. 25). Such punishment was

commensurate with the injury (Sterba, 1976). The Sumerians established a system of

laws to deal with personal injuries, slave issues, sexual offenses, marital problems, and

agricultural disputes? (Milosavljevic, 2007, p. 7). Regulating the behavior of its citizens

helped keep the social order.

From its earliest days, the criminal justice system in America has served to protect

the interests of the rich, property-owning classes. Crime is often associated with the

working poor and the underclass (Jargowsky & Park, 2009). Because of this, crime is

often a problem in urban areas with low income levels. Elevated crime levels have been

attributed to neighborhood social disorganization stemming from urban structural

changes, residential instability, and racial/ethnic transitions (Jargowsky & Park, 2009,

p.30). The contemporary criminal justice system has been viewed as a means of

regulating class interests by insuring that enforcement efforts are directed toward the

regulation of the poor. (Weiner, 1975, p. 436).


There are several differences between Sumer and contemporary American society.

For instance, the position of women is markedly different in the two social structures.

Additionally, slavery no longer exists in the United States, eliminating this lowest of

social classes. The communal lifestyle of Sumer stands in sharp contrast to the capitalist

society of the United States. Finally, the criminal justice systems of these two societies

have different goals and objectives.

Among the differences between Sumer and the United States is the position of

women in society. In Sumer, it was the male citizens who comprised the assembly of

elders and who controlled the power and wealth of the community. Unlike in Sumer, the

United States is no longer controlled exclusively by men. In the United States, the

proclamation that ?all men are created equal? has been interpreted to include women as

well as people from all social classes. The Fourteenth Amendments Equal Protection

clause guarantees that “no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (U.S. Const. Amend. XIV). Thus, people of all classes, as well as women, are protected equally by the laws of the United States. Another difference between Sumer and the United States is slavery. Until 1863, slavery was legal in the United States (Harr & Hess, 2002).The Emancipation Proclamation officially freed the slaves and outlawed slavery (Harr & Hess, 2002). Those in the slave states did not immediately comply with the Emancipation

Proclamation (Harr & Hess, 2002). The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States

Constitution abolished slavery in America (U.S. Const. Amend. XIII). In contrast, slaves

made up the lowest social class in Sumer. Unlike in the United States, the people of Sumer had a communal lifestyle. People did not work for money, nor did they compete to get rich at the expense of other individuals. The great majority safely depended on the head of their estate to fill their needs, and he, in turn, depended on them to increase and protect his wealth and position (Ellison, 1964, p. 22). Further, each city was conceived to be the special concern of one

of the gods in Mesopotamia, and in a sense the equalitarianism of government placed

each man in the position of being a guardian of that god’s interests (Ellison, 1964, p. 24).

In contrast, the United States has both urban and rural communities in which people work

for money and attempt to better their social situation. Additionally, under capitalism

people work for their own self-interests and have an opportunity to change their social

class by getting an education and accumulating greater wealth.

The objective of the criminal justice system in these two societies differed as well.

In Sumer, punishment for crime attempted to make the victim whole again or was

retribution commensurate with the type of harm inflicted. The Sumerian code of Ur-Nammu focused on restitution as the primary approach to criminal justice (Van Ness, 1991). In the United States, crime is defined as an offense against the State instead of against a specific individual (Van Ness, 1991). Because of this, the offender is not held personally responsible for restoring the victim. However, restitution is sometimes made part of sentencing and victim’s rights are becoming more important within the criminal justice system.

The cultures, social class hierarchies, and legal systems of Sumer and the United

States are significantly different; yet, the class structure and criminal justice system of

Sumer offers unique insights into our own society. The similarities and differences

highlight the importance of understanding where civilization began and where we intend

to go from here. Because of the complexity of the relationship between social class and

crime, it is vital to remain aware of the goals of the criminal justice system.


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