Archive for August 7, 2015

A general view of the Uruk archaeological site at Warka in Iraq. "Uruk Archaealogical site at Warka, Iraq MOD 45156521" by Photo: SAC Andy Holmes (RAF)/MOD. Licensed under OGL via Wikimedia Commons -,_Iraq_MOD_45156521.jpg#/media/File:Uruk_Archaealogical_site_at_Warka,_Iraq_MOD_45156521.jpg

A general view of the Uruk archaeological site at Warka in Iraq.
“Uruk Archaealogical site at Warka, Iraq MOD 45156521” by Photo: SAC Andy Holmes (RAF)/MOD. Licensed under OGL via Wikimedia Commons –,_Iraq_ MOD_45156521.jpg#/media/File:Uruk_Archaealogical_site_at_Warka,_Iraq_MOD_45156521.jpg

In a series of posts I am going to look at the story of the city of Uruk in Mesopotamia. It has been described by some historians as the first city in history. Here we immediately encounter a problem as even those who would describe the city as such, often in their writings, then referred to earlier cities. The problem lies, I guess with the fact that there is no clear definition of what constitutes a city or when a large settlement becomes a city. Just to give an example of two of the scholars I have drawn on for this seies . Kenneth Harl lists four criteria, which in his mind, define a city settlement. These are a significantly large population living in one small area, the presence of intensive agriculture to support them and the development of trade and of writing. Marc van de Mieroop on the other hand, agrees with Harl on the subject of population, but argues that it is the presence of specialised labour within the settlement that makes a difference. Nevertheless, leaving this problem to one side, there is no doubt that the development of Uruk is indeed a turning point in the development of society, and urban living.

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The fifth millennia BCE was a crucial time in the history of the human race. It is during this period that we see the culmination of several cultural processes which led to innovations, including states, cities and writing – the first signs of the existence of a complex society organised by a hierarchy and with specialist labour. In the ancient near East, these developments were first seen in the South of Mesopotamia, although the influence of these initial development sites were soon to spread throughout the entire near East.
The area in which these developments occurred were in what later become to be known as central and southern Babylonia. The city which showed the greatest development was the city of Uruk in southern Babylonia and as a result, this period is generally known as the Uruk period and the process of change referred to as the Uruk phenomenon. In a period of 800 years, there was a marked shift from small agriculturally based villages to large urban centres with full-time bureaucracy and military and the development of a stratified society.
According to the Sumerian King list, city of Uruk was founded by King Enmerker in the year 4500 BCE. It is located on what was either a tributary of the River Euphrates or an alternative River course in the southern region of the land that came to be known as Sumer. (map) This area is today part of Iraq. Indeed some scholars argue that the name Iraq derives from the Aramaic name for the city of Uruk, which was Erech. In general terms, perhaps the city is most famous for its King, Gilgamesh, although he does not come to the throne, until the middle of the third century. In its early years, it was also the site for a number of firsts which led to development of ‘civilisation’. These include the development of an extensive trade network and of writing, first examples of architectural work in stone coupled with the building of great stone structures such as Ziggurats and temple complexes , the development of the cylinder seal and Joshua Mark argues the recognition of the importance of an individual role within the collective community and the development of specialised roles within that society.