New Book - How The Sumerians Became Rich

How The Sumerians Became Rich
With Sumerian Cuneiform Sign List and Sign Readings Index

John Alan Halloran
432 pages
Trade Paperback
ISBN-13: 978-0-9786429-3-8
20 illustrations
November 5, 2021

The book can be ordered here at or from

Table of Contents

Between 7000 BC and 2000 BC the Sumerians built a high civilization. Seeing their orderly and prosperous lives, their neighbors sought to emulate them. We know about the Sumerians from all the hundreds of thousands of clay tablets that they and their Babylonian successors created.

The Sumerians progressed from proto-writing for accounting purposes to true writing for recording language around 3000 BC. The inhabitants of Sumer and Mesopotamia wrote to each other by impressing their cuneiform signs into clay for the next 3,000 years.

John Halloran has loved the Sumerians and their language since he created in 1983 the first version of his 2006 Sumerian Lexicon dictionary. He now finds it possible to explore and summarize the achievements of the Sumerians using his intimate knowledge of Sumerian language and culture and put it all within a larger framework that contrasts life in a state of nature with life in a state of civilization. You will see for yourself that the Sumerians pioneered long-lasting social and technological solutions to many of the same issues that we face today.

How The Sumerians Became Rich draws upon the latest findings of many archaeologists and scholars, whose works appear listed in the Bibliography, to such an extent that it would have been premature for this book to appear any earlier. This is particularly true of the 100-page Sumerian cuneiform sign list that appears at the end of the book.

You should come to appreciate the dynamism of the independent but networked Sumerian cities. That network gave the best innovations a chance to be tested and to take root. For most of Sumerian history, they lived in uncrowded and peaceful conditions. They welcomed immigrants. However, towards the end, overcrowding led to conflict and war.

How The Sumerians Became Rich book graphic

This is the second edition. The first edition was sold privately over the summer of 2021 to the customer list. Here are the reactions of some of those readers:


How The Sumerians Became Rich

How the Sumerians Became Rich is an excellent read. It not only explores the evolution of the language, but also the culture and society of the Sumerians. It was well researched, with 16 pages of bibliography references, and a few citations to online articles for those of us that cannot dive too deep in the weeds but would like to learn more. I feel the greatest benefit of owning the book is having the comprehensive sign list. I once asked my professor what the best book would be for Sumerian and I was pointed to an online resource. As far as I know, until now, there was never a published sign list for Sumerian this comprehensive. Even my study guide has only a fraction of the signs that are included in How the Sumerians Became Rich. I would recommend this book to anyone with interest in the Sumerians or their language.

PJ Green



This is an excellent book that should be read by anyone interested in Sumerian society. But it is more than that. Without being tendentious, Halloran has included parallels with modern society, as well. The Sumerians made choices regarding the relative merits of collective vs. individual rights and responsibilities. We face similar pressures. The book is very well documented linguistically, as one would expect from the author of the Sumerian Lexicon. The title may or may not appeal to everyone, but the content is extremely valuable. Scholarship does not have to be boring, nor esoteric. This book is very readable. There is very little available on the Sumerians. Most of the material that is published (and rapidly goes out-of-print) is arcane linguistic trivia. Halloran's books are a very nice exception to this trend.

Fred Lord M.Sc. in Applied Linguistics (and Ancient History enthusiast)



The title of John Alan Halloran's new book says it all: How the Sumerians Became Rich. The Sumerians prospered even though they didn't have a lot of natural resources. Exactly how they managed to do this has never been fully understood by the scholars. Until now. Sumerian civilization was destroyed more than 4,000 years ago, so only a few of their artifacts remain − except for thousands of cuneiform tablets. Fortunately, John Alan Halloran is an expert on the Sumerian language (he is also the author of the Sumerian Lexicon). He uses the Sumerians' own words to describe their expertise in farming, herding, business, and government, showing how they created enough surplus wealth to develop their great civilization (when most of the world was still living in the Stone Age). Halloran also uses modern history and sociology to offer genuine insight into how the Sumerians dealt with the same problems that still exist in the world today. Although this is a scholarly book, Halloran's clear presentation of his ideas is easily understood by all readers. Taken together, both of Halloran's books provide important contributions to the study of Sumerian history. The Sumerian Lexicon is essential to understanding the Sumerian language. How the Sumerians Became Rich is essential to understanding the Sumerian people.

Jerald Jack Starr



How the Sumerians Became Rich by John Halloran is a thorough and thought-provoking reappraisal of the rise of the first civilisation. This ground breaking work could be read as a series of essays on aspects of Sumerian epistemology and in this Halloran succeeds splendidly.

Halloran's perspective focuses on the transition by way of culture of man from a state of nature (and the consequent uncontrolled vagaries of existence) to a state of greater certainty, and therefore of human control. He argues convincingly that economic factors account for the cultural impetus which would result in Sumer's unique achievements.

As well as calling upon archaeological and linguistic evidence and economic theory Halloran draws his thinking from a wide range of disciplines not previously regarded as significant to Sumerology. His arguments are supported by illustrations which are effective in enhancing the message.

The descriptive list of a thousand signs in the final appendix is one of my favourite parts of Halloran's book. It is based upon decades of work by the author and is an extremely useful cuneiform dictionary. It will be appreciated by both novice Sumerologists and those more advanced in the subject.

Allan Speedy, BCom MCom FRAS



I very much enjoyed this book, and frankly learned a lot. The author has a truly deep knowledge of this subject. The Sumerian people left a profound imprint on human history. Although they had a language unrelated to any other (a language isolate), they invented writing before anyone else, and most writing systems in the world today descend from it. They evolved the world's first complex, diverse, and stratified cities. Throw in accounting, taxes, project management, and religion (from which the trio of Abrahamic religions descended) and the like, and their importance should be obvious. Knowing about them is essential to a good understanding of how the world came to be as it is. The book's 200 page summary of Sumerian history and culture is both concise and wide-ranging, and somewhat idiosyncratically formatted in doublespaced business style paragraphs. However, I found this a strangely effective device; each paragraph functions as a concise essay on a specific topic. Gathered into broad chapters, from the diffusion of the Neolithic and agriculture through culture, trade, and economics, they make a mosaic that conveys a well-rounded sense of the language, invention, and culture of these mysterious people. The chapters are liberally sprinkled with topical vocabulary lists, which give a feel for how thought and language interacted. The book includes a number of appendices on topics like the development of language, cosmetics, tally-sticks, an interlinear text of an important hymn, plus an extensive sign list and sign reading index, plus bibliography. It is a rich companion to Halloran's Sumerian Lexicon, which I have used since it came out in 2006.

Rob Swigart



I am reading your book one chapter at a time. That way I have time to think about what you're writing and to check some of the articles/books to which you refer. I'm quite impressed by the tremendous amount of effort you've put into collating your extensive knowledge into the book. Certainly, I recognize that our world would most likely be different without the contributions of the Sumerians and these can hardly be overstated.

Kenneth Keown



"A state of nature" is the title of the first chapter of John Halloran's How the Sumerians Became Rich. The title is enough to spark, at least, curiosity about the book and arouses interest in reading it. The chapter begins with a question about the difference between living in a state of nature and living in a state of civilization. Halloran traces the journey upon which a group of people, the proto-Sumerians, embarked about 10,000 years ago, until the fall of the last Sumerian dynasty, around 6,000 years later.

Halloran shows through the book how the agricultural development and other natural resources, the need to keep records, the growing of cities and labour specialization, the invention of writing, the permanent interaction of Sumerian with their Semitic neighbours, took the Sumerian civilization to its apex. But it was not free. As presented in the fifteenth chapter, "Not a Closed System", an environmental and social cost had to be paid.

It is worth to note that all along the book, Halloran complements the text with approaches and quotations from fields like sociology, psychology, public policy, politics, philosophy, system dynamics, ecology, and even science-fiction, making the reading more interesting and captivating.

In summary, How the Sumerians Became Rich is a stimulating, easy to read book that complements other standard books on Sumerian civilization.

Aldo Tamburrino, Ph.D.



John Halloran has a deep love and broad understanding of the Sumerians. He has spent decades researching the seminal contributions of this ancient people to our civilization. If you are fascinated and inspired by the Sumerians, after reading Samuel Noah Kramer's History Begins at Sumer, this volume, How the Sumerians Became Rich, will fill in significant details for a rounded, in-depth picture of Who the Sumerians were and Why they are so important to us.

Jerome Berman, Director, California Museum of Ancient Art



Your new book is very helpful by laying out the history with the language. It sparks my brain with clear images, allowing a better understanding of how things developed. You make sense when you tie the multiple meaning of the words together. I have bought many scholarly books about the Sumerians through Eisenbraun's that I had to use a dictionary to understand what was being written. Your writing is clear, practical and useful.

Thank you for all the work you have done to make this unique era of western civilization understandable and meaningful.

Kathy Reed

Place Secure Order for book

Copyright © 2021 John Alan Halloran, Los Angeles, California. All Rights Reserved.
Last modified on November 15, 2021.