Rise and Fall of the Temple
The Mesopotamian civilization was based on cities. From the earliest phases there were at least a dozen large population centers. They ranged from in size from 40-50 hectares to the colossal 450 hectares occupied by Uruk in the early third millennium [B.C.E.]. They were surrounded by often massive city walls, enclosed heavily built-up areas of streets and houses and large centrally placed public buildings, usually in their own separate enclosures.
The public buildings fall into two main categories, temples and palaces, which represent two major institutions. The buildings were truly monumental. The temple was the first institution of the two. Temples varied in form but generally shared a number of features. They were usually set in an enclosure, were often elaborately decorated in a variety of techniques, and frequently were built on an elevated platform. By the later third millennium [B.C.E.], the temple on its platform had developed into the true ziggurat or staged temple tower for which Mesopotamia is famous.
The Mesopotamian temple was not simply the religious center of the city, it was the economic and administrative center. The temple was run as a household with the god or goddess at its head; every citizen belonged to a temple and was regarded as one of the people of the god or goddess. The temple community comprised food-producers, officials, priests, merchants, craftsmen, and people involved in running the temple establishment itself (bakers, brewers, gardners, etc., and a considerable number of slaves). The temple was itself a major landowner, and it served as a center for the accumulation and redistribution of most of the food produce of the land. It was also a center for the concentration and redistribution of raw materials from foreign trade. Equally important, it was a center for the concentration and organization of labor, which made possible large-scale works beyond the scope of small communities, such as the building of the temples themselves and the construction and maintenance of the irrigation canals.
— Ruth Whitehouse and John Wilkins, The Making Of Civilization, p. 12-13