City of Ur

City of Ur
City of Ur

The Sumerian city of Ur is identified with Tell el Muqayyar in southern Iraq, along a course of the Euphrates River that has dried up. It is commonly related to the birthplace of Abraham ("Ur of the Chaldeans" in Genesis 11:28–31). Excavations at Ur began in 1849, but C. Leonard Woolley did most of the work in 1922–34. Ur was first occupied from the middle of the Ubaid period (c. 5000–4000 b.c.e.), attested by only pottery, tools, and a few graves.

The Uruk and Jemdet Nasr periods (c. 4000–3000 b.c.e.) saw the construction of a temple platform adorned with clay cones, suggesting the city’s religious importance even at this early stage. A huge cemetery site indicates a thriving local population.

Rubbish deposits near the temple platform contain proto-cuneiform clay tablets and pottery dated to the Early Dynastic period (c. 3000–2350 b.c.e.). Seal impressions bear symbols that supposedly represent city names, implying Ur’s relations with other cities.

Furthermore 16 "Royal Tombs" of the Early Dynastic III period (c.2600–2350 b.c.e.) were discovered in these deposit layers, including the magnifi cent burials of King Meskalamdug and Queen Pu-Abi.

Numerous burials in the tombs’ outer rooms suggest that attendants were sacrificed along with the dead king. The strata above these tombs have yielded seal impressions of King Mesannepada, named in the Sumerian King List as the founder of the First Dynasty at Ur.

During the Akkadian period (c. 2350–2193 b.c.e.), Sargon of Akkad appointed his daughter Enheduanna as the en-priestess of Nanna, the moon deity whose cult center was Ur.

This strategy helped legitimize the new Akkadian dynasty by emphasizing its continuity with Sumerian tradition. From then and into the Ur III period, a pattern emerged in which the en-priestess at Ur was a princess from the dominant royal family.

The Ur III dynasty (2112–2004 b.c.e.) was founded by Ur-Nammu. Like Sargon, Ur-Nammu reigned over an empire encompassing Sumer and Akkad, this time with Ur as the capital. This period was marked by intensive urbanization and proliferation of written (mostly economic) records, as well as the standardization of the writing system, weights and measures, and the calendar sequence.

Also dated to this time are the famous ziggurat (pyramidal temple tower) of Ur-Nammu, the Temenos (temple complex) of Nanna, the Ehursag palace, and the Giparu, where the en-priestess lived.

Shulgi, the son of Ur-Nammu, claimed deification for himself, a status later adopted by his successors. The Ur III city was eventually captured by the Elamites of the Shimashki dynasty, and its last king, Ibbi-Sin, was carried away into exile.

Ishbi-Erra, founder of the first dynasty of Isin, expelled the Elamites from Ur and rebuilt the city. Henceforth, the rulers of Isin claimed to be heirs of the Ur III heritage. The city, however, soon came under the control of the rival dynasty at Larsa.

Babylon’s ascendancy under Hammurabi further eclipsed any political power at Ur. Nonetheless, Ur remained an important religious center in the years to follow. Ur-Nammu’s ziggurat and the Temenos enclosure underwent restoration by the Kassite king Kurigalzu, and the Neo-Babylonian kings Nebuchadnezzar II and Nabonidus.

Also, Nabonidus revived the then-obsolete tradition of appointing the king’s daughter as Ur’s en-priestess. Ur, however, eventually declined in the fourth century b.c.e., possibly due to the Euphrates’ shift away from the city.