Most of the people who lived in the city-states were poor agricultural workers. They lived in small houses made of sun-dried mud bricks. These workers worked in the fields and built important levees and canals. Slaves also worked in the fields and on the water system. Slaves were either prisoners taken from another city-state or individuals who could not pay off their debts.
Merchants sold goods they made or traded. Sumer produced a surplus of grain and cloth. Merchants would travel to faraway lands to trade these goods for cedar wood, gold, silver, copper, tin, lapis lazuli, spices, dyes, and jewels.
Each city-state was ruled by a king and a small noble class. The king made all the important decisions for the city-state. He was responsible for keeping the citizens of the city-state safe. The nobles were family members and supporters of the kings as well as priests and scribes.
Priests were some of the most respected people in Sumerian society because they were able to talk to the gods. They could tell the people what to do to keep the gods happy.
Scribes were the only people who knew how to read and write. Not even the king knew how to read and write. Scribes were often the sons of nobles and wealthy merchants. They went to school from sun up to sun down to learn how to read and write cuneiform, the Sumerian language.