Posts Tagged ‘Uruk’

"Uruk3000BCE" by PHGCOM (2007). Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons -

“Uruk3000BCE” by PHGCOM (2007). Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons –

Uruk continued to be a prominent and influential city throughout the third millennia. When King Eannutum established the first proto- Empire in the region, he chose Uruk to be his capital and it remained the capital of the Lagash Empire for over 200 years until Sargon of Akkad brought it under the control of the Akkadian Empire in 2334 BCE. Sargon also seems to have revered the city and there is evidence during these early years of the Akkadian Empire the sacred districts continued in use and there is evidence of renovation within them from this time. This suggests that Uruk flourished under the rule of the Akkadians. The start of the city’s decline came about 1750 BCE with the invasion of the Elamites and the Amorites, although the city seems still to have maintained a significant role in the area and did not fare nearly as badly as many of its neighbours. In around 850 BCE, it became a provincial capital under the Assyrians and later the Babylonians, and this period marked a new revival of the city. A new Temple complex was added to the Anu district and we know from Babylonian records that this was one of the main centres for the study of astronomy. In addition to this new Temple site, the existing temples and canal system were restored. In 200 BC, a further Temple district was added to the city situated between the existing Anu and Ianna districts and was known as the great sanctuary of Ishtar. Ishtar being the Babylonian equivalent of Ianna. The invasion of the Parthians around 140 BCE, signalled the beginning of a second period of decline, one from which it would not recover.

Statue bearing an inscription on the back: "Satam, son of Lu-Barab, son of Lugal-kisal-si, king of Uruk, servant of Girim-si, prince of Uruk". Limestone, Early Dynastic III, ca. 2400 Unknown - Jastrow (2006). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Statue bearing an inscription on the back: “Satam, son of Lu-Barab, son of Lugal-kisal-si, king of Uruk, servant of Girim-si, prince of Uruk”. Limestone, Early Dynastic III, ca. 2400 Unknown – Jastrow (2006). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Use of the temples and settlement within the city does seems to have continued until the seventh century A.D, long after many of its neighbours been abandoned. Uruk was not finally abandoned as a settlement until after the Muslim conquest of Mesopotamia around the year 630. It lay undisturbed until the site was discovered again in 1849 by William Kennet Loftus, who cvexcavated from 1850 to 1854. Further excavavtions on the site took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After that there have been sporadic one off digs mostly by German archaeologists. Most recently, from 2001 to 2002, the German Archaeological Institute team carried out a geo-physical survey using both ground techniques and satellite imagery, which have reveled new information about the layout of the city

Uruk (taken from

Uruk (taken from

There is a legend in Sumerian mythology that Inanna went to the sacred city of Eridu where she stole a number of sacred items belonging to the father God Enki ,which she then bought back to her Temple at Uruk. The tale of Inanna and the God of wisdom details how Enki when he discovered that the objects had been removed went to great lengths to have them brought back to the sanctuary at Eridu. There is an underlying message in this tale, the removal of these artefacts, which was said to define the basis of the cultural pattern of Sumerian civilisation, from the city of the god’s Eridu to a city of men, marked a shift in the focus of power. A clear statement is being made in this story about where the power lies in the region. It has shifted from the old god’s of Eridu to those god’s who have taken up residence in Uruk, as seen by the helplessness of the old gods. It would also of course, strengthen Uruk’s position amongst the other settlements of the area.

Administrative tablet, Jamdat Nasr, Uruk III style - 3100–2900 B.C (détail)". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -,_Jamdat_Nasr,_Uruk_III_style_-_3100%E2%80%932900_B.C_(d%C3%A9tail).jpg#/media/File:Met_(2)_-_Administrative_tablet,_Jamdat_Nasr,_Uruk_III_style_-_3100%E2%80%932900_B.C_(d%C3%A9tail).jpg

Administrative tablet, Jamdat Nasr, Uruk III style – 3100–2900 B.C (détail)”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –,_Jamdat_Nasr,_Uruk_III_style_-_3100%E2%80%932900_B.C_(d%C3%A9tail).jpg#/media/File:Met_(2)_-_Administrative_tablet,_Jamdat_Nasr,_Uruk_III_style_-_3100%E2%80%932900_B.C_(d%C3%A9tail).jpg

Aside from the Temples themselves, the Temple district also contains several other buildings, some of which have been identified as workshops. There are also varying interpretations about purposes of these Temple districts and it has been argued that they serve both an important religious and state function, although this is predominantly based on the findings from a later neo-Babylonian temple archive, which documents the social and economic functions of the Temple as a redistribution centre for food and other goods. Kenneth Harl argues that it was within temple complexes that the economic activity of the city was focused and there is some evidence to support this from Uruk itself. It is clear that the extensive trade networks of the early Sumerian cities were not the work of individuals trading on a freelance basis. There is clearly a large organisation behind these trade routes which exported jewellery, weapons, furniture, textiles and ceramics and returned with wood, metals, stone and gems such as lapis lazuli, which were not available in the Euphrates River Valley. Evidence suggests that these networks reached to Arabia and Egypt to the South and West; Syria and Turkey to the North and East across the Zagros mountains. There is also some evidence that at least in the latter part of the city’s dominance they also imported slaves to act as Labour. If as Harl and others suggest the Temple was the primary engine of economic activity within the city, then the activities of the merchants operating within the trade network would also have been regulated from here. Evidence suggests that there may have been a specialised priest who managed the trade and economic activity of the Temple known as “en”. This word has been variously translated as overseer or Lord although in later periods it can also mean King. The level of organisation can be seen in the document known as the “standard list of professions” which uses the term ‘nam’ which is most often translated as leader in association with a number of different professions, including priests, gardeners, cooks, smiths, jewellers and potters and would seem to referred to a head or leader of each profession. One fascinating entry on this list is “nam nam” or leader of leaders possibly a reference to the chief priest or the senior official of the city.

"Sumerian-akkadian Lexicon - Louvre, Near Eastern Antiquities in the Louvre, Room 3, Case 15 - AO 7662" by Poulpy. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -,_Near_Eastern_Antiquities_in_the_Louvre,_Room_3,_Case_15_-_AO_7662.jpg#/media/File:Sumerian-akkadian_Lexicon_-_Louvre,_Near_Eastern_Antiquities_in_the_Louvre,_Room_3,_Case_15_-_AO_7662.jpg

“Sumerian-akkadian Lexicon – Louvre, Near Eastern Antiquities in the Louvre, Room 3, Case 15 – AO 7662” by Poulpy. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –,_Near_Eastern_Antiquities_in_the_Louvre,_Room_3,_Case_15_-_AO_7662.jpg#/media/File:Sumerian-akkadian_Lexicon_-_Louvre,_Near_Eastern_Antiquities_in_the_Louvre,_Room_3,_Case_15_-_AO_7662.jpg

The development of trade was coupled with the development of writing as a way to keep records of stock, materials and transactions. Cuniform tablets record the distribution of grain to workers, ptresumibly as part of their recompense for laboura swell as other goods movements.

What then do we know about city and its structure from the excavations have taken place city seems to been divided into two religious sections – the Ianna district and the Anu district, named after the goddess Inanna and her grandfather Anu, together with surrounding residential areas. There is no doubt that the temples stood at the heart of the city. In the Gilgamesh epic, we are told that the Temple dedicated to Ianna covered one third of the area of the city.
The Ianna complex was contained by a wall which separated it from the rest of the city, although it is unclear whether this was for ceremonial purposes or for some other reason.



Decoration from  Inanna temple at Uruk from

Decoration from Inanna temple at Uruk from

It has been suggested that Anu was the patron God of the original early city until the rise of the worship of Ianna, when she was given her own ‘city area within the city – a private compound if you like’. Since some temples were considered the literal dwelling places of deities on Earth and since the evidence seems to suggest that Ianna was believed to be a goddess who preferred things her own way, some have suggested this might be the reason for the walled enclosure, but really this is just speculation. The Anu district was smaller but would have looked impressive from a distance since unlike the temple complex of Ianna its dominating feature was a ziggurat.

Anu Ziggurat at Uruk (

Anu Ziggurat at Uruk (

Ziggurats were built by many of the Mesopotamian races from 4000 BCE until around 600BCE. Built in receding tiers upon a rectangular, oval, or square platform, the ziggurat was a pyramidal structure with a flat top. Sun-baked bricks made up the core of the ziggurat with facings of fired bricks on the outside. The facings were often glazed in different colors and may have had an astrological significance. The number of tiers ranged from two to seven. It is assumed that they had shrines at the top, but there is no archaeological evidence for this and the only textual evidence is from Herodotus. Access to the shrine would have been by a series of ramps on one side of the ziggurat or by a spiral ramp from base to summit. The Mesopotamian ziggurats were not places for public worship or ceremonies as they were believed to be dwelling places for the gods and each city had its own patron god. Only priests were permitted on the ziggurat or in the rooms at its base, and it was their responsibility to care for the gods and attend to their needs. The Mesopotamians believed that these pyramid temples connected heaven and earth. The later ziggurat at Babylon was known as Etemenankia or “House of the Platform between Heaven and Earth”.. Unfortunately, not much of even the base is left of this massive structure, yet archaeological findings and historical accounts put this tower at seven multi-coloured tiers, topped with a temple of exquisite proportions. The temple is thought to have been painted and maintained an indigo colour, matching the tops of the tiers. It is known that there were three staircases leading to the temple, two of which were thought to have only ascended half the ziggurat’s height.

Uruk (taken from

Uruk (taken from

The start of the Uruk period can be dated to around 4100 BCE when there is a notable increase in both the number and the size of the settlements in southern and central Babylonia. At Uruk, there has been a substantial growth in the size of the settlement, which is now at over 100 hectres. There is also an apparent shift of population and settlement from the central Babylonian area to the southern area under the influence of Uruk. This change occurs around the time when the city was at its most influential during the fourth millennia BCE when Uruk was the largest urban centre in the region and its hub for trade and administration. Some estimates have put the population of the city at around 20,000 with the population of the area at this time as being in the range of 30,000 to 80,000 residents living in a 6 km² area, which if true, would certainly make it the largest city-state in the world at the time. The manner in which, and the extent to which, the city held control over the other settlements in the area is unknown. Gwendoline Leick sums this up by saying “The Uruk phenomenon is still much debated, as to the extent Uruk exercise political control over large area covered by the Uruk artefacts, whether this relied on the use of force or which institutions were in charge. Too little of the site has been excavated to provide any firm answers to these questions. However, it is clear that the urbanisation process was set in motion and concentrated at Uruk itself .’

The Uruk Vase - Men bearing gifts to the goddess Inanna (Innin), a bull and agricultural products. Limestone, around 2.900 BCE. (taken from

The Uruk Vase – Men bearing gifts to the goddess Inanna (Innin), a bull and agricultural products. Limestone, around 2.900 BCE. (taken from

Another problem which has baffled scholars is why Uruk? During the Uruk peak period, the city of Ur 50 miles to the south-east would have seemed a much more likely site for the growth and development of the trade hub, situated on the then shore of the Persian Gulf. Yet this did not happen. One possibility that has been suggested is the abundance in suitable agricultural land around Uruk which, coupled with the organisation of agriculture and irrigation on a larger scale enable sufficient food to be grown to support the massive increase in the city population.
Gwendoline Leick mentioned the artefacts that originated from the city. These have been found in contemporary digs from sites throughout Mesopotamia and beyond. Most characteristic of these is a bevelled-rim-bowl. This bowl was moulded and mass produced in the city and has become one of the clear indicators of the extent of the cities trade throughout Mesopotamia. One complicating factor to this is that, although most scholars agree that this bowl had its origin at Uruk, it does seem that with time local production sprang up in other places. In this case the bowl may be seen not as an indicator of tried but an indicator of the city’s influence in that it exported the idea of places.

Uruk mass produced pottery(taken from

Uruk mass produced pottery(taken from

However not all the pottery produced was as utilitarian and a number of examples of fine decorated bowls have been discovered. Ceramic figurines such as the one of the frog have also been found in the temple area and in trading outposts. In addition to these other items which occur at this time are an abundance of cylinder and stamp seals probably associated with the identification of ownership or destination of trade goods.

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.

lOcation of Urk taken from lOcation of Urk (taken from[/caption)]

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.