What Were the Social Classes in Mesopotamia in Ancient Civilization?

Ancient Mesopotamian helmets were carefully crafted.

Mesopotamia was located where modern-day Iraq can now be found. The word Mesopotamia is ancient Greek and means "land between two rivers." The civilization in Mesopotamia was ruled by kings and had a straightforward social structure divided into four classes. Mesopotamian culture and heritage was crucial in the development of human history, as it was the birthplace of religions, cities, agriculture and even writing.

1 Priests

On top of the social structure in Mesopotamia were priests. Mesopotamian culture did not recognize one god but worshipped different deities, and the priests were thought to have many supernatural powers. In addition to serving in religious ceremonies they tended to the sick, pacified angry gods and governed with laws that they thought kept the gods happy. An additional important task for the priests was to act as record keepers for the king. Priests had shaved heads and dressed in sheep's wool cloaks.

2 Upper-Class

Upper-class people in Mesopotamia consisted of nobility and the rich. Some government officials and wealthy landowners and merchants were included in this class. The upper-classes dressed in fine cloths and wore expensive jewelry, and men showed their social status by wearing a long hair and beard. Women wore off the shoulder dresses and either braided their hair or wore fancy ornaments on their heads. Upper-class people commonly owned slaves who did manual labor, including all household work.

3 Lower-Class

The lower class in Mesopotamia consisted of people who got paid for their work. This included professions such as fishermen, pottery makers and farmers. Even though Mesopotamian society was not equal, everybody had to pay for goods or services, even the king. Lower-class people owned their own homes and could afford some modest luxuries, like wearing jewelry. They could also move up in the social structure by becoming a priest or acquiring large wealth. Punishments were hard for any crimes committed, and if a lower class man fell into debt, he could pay off the debt by selling his wife and children into slavery.

4 Slaves

In Mesopotamia slavery was commonplace and was considered the lowest class in social structure. Slaves, most often war prisoners or criminals, did not get paid for their work, but received free lodging and food. With the expansion of agriculture, the need for slaves to do the manual labor grew, and slaves were exploited as an unpaid workforce. However, slaves did have some rights in ancient Mesopotamia: they could own land, had the freedom to marry anyone they wished and the opportunity to also buy their own freedom.

Kris Helen became a freelance writer in 2008 and has never looked back. She has written reviews, news and interviews for such online publications as The Neave and Blogcritics, and has also written a regular music blog. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Columbia College Hollywood.