Why Were Priests Powerful in Mesopotamian Society?

Priests held powerful positions in ancient Mesopotamian society because people thought the priests possessed a direct connection to the local gods. Religion played a significant role in Mesopotamian culture, government and the daily lives of all. More than 1,000 deities existed in the pantheon of the Mesopotamian gods, with each city overseen by its own local god.

Temples to house particular deities were built, with a temple at the center of every city. In many cities, temples were built upon artificial mounds called ziggurats, which were constructed to resemble mountains, thought to be the focus of power on Earth. This central temple symbolized the importance of the city’s patron deity, worshipped by the city residents as well as the communities that city presided over.

Priests were considered representatives of the patron gods of a particular city-state. They were both spiritual and secular leaders, commonly called priest-kings. These priest-kings were obeyed and revered because people believed the priest-kings communicated with the gods. Priests controlled the temples, and they began taxing the rural peasants and the city artisans for support. The priests instituted a command economy by which they benefited and ruled. Mesopotamian society also had kings, who usually rose up from the priestly or military classes.