I wonder about the life-styles of the inhabitants of ancient civilizations. As a particular case, if we consider the era of Sumer, what are the significant diversities compared to rural life today?

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    Trick question: Sumerian farmers slept at night. Commented Sep 12, 2018 at 2:50

1 Answer 1


According to historian A. Roger Ekirch's At Day's Close, peoples in pre-industrial societies actually went to bed as soon at it was too dark to work, and slept (and still do sleep in such areas today) in two fourish-hour phases, interrupted by a short period of activity. He found numerous references to this in literature, from Medieval literature to Homer. However, the electric lighting available to modern industrialized societies resulted in people staying active after dark, and thus needing to skip the middle activity period to make up for it.

Ekirch argues that these days we have become so used to an uninterrupted 6-8 hour sleep that we have trouble translating the concepts of "first sleep" and "second sleep" from older literature (hiding the fact that they existed), and those who wake up for a while in the middle of the night often think they have some kind of disorder.

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    Is this ides widely accepted or is it considered controversial? Commented Jan 4, 2013 at 15:09
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    electric lighting resulted in people staying active after dark, it was too dark to work, and slept What about using firelight? Firelight is not suitable for industry and field jobs, but craftsmen and peasants could stay effective after sunset. Am I understanding this correctly? Commented Jan 8, 2013 at 8:30
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    @defaultlocale Yes. In Russia before electric lightning, woman massively spinned during the dark time. It doesn't take much light.
    – Gangnus
    Commented Jan 9, 2013 at 15:33
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    Ekirch's book is a fascinating read, and it also goes e.g. into people working (e.g. women spinning) at night during per-industrial times. For what I remember, the argument about segmented sleep appears locally in one chapter and is mainly based on linguistic evidence from England, Italy, France, and Spain plus in Latin. Ekirch also considers whether the practice may have to do with Christian monasticism. For what I remember, he does not address Sumer, although the argument as such would seem to make sense there as well.
    – Drux
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 17:50
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    @Drux - I'd be interested in that. Given the contents of some of the Old Norse myths and things like Beowulf, I'm guessing a lot of hanging out in a big fire-lit (and heated) halls was involved.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 10, 2013 at 18:44

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