Settlements > Uruk

Uruk

Background

Uruk was the largest city-state in the Sumer civilization and responsible for a lot of the iconic Sumerian culture and structures. At one point it was the most important civilization in Mesopotamia and was founded around 4500 BCE by King Enmerkar.

The city of Uruk was located in the southern region of Sumer and responsible for producing the great hero King Gilgamesh along with a great number of firsts for civilizations. By most accounts Uruk is considered the first great city in the world and the origins of writing can be traced back here.

The site of Uruk also saw the origin of the ziggurat design and the first time that a cylindrical seal was used to designate personal property in regards to trade and ownership. These seals acted more or less as a persons signature in ancient Sumer.

Featuring at its height a population of 50-80,000, the city of Uruk was a massive development for the time period. It boasted the heart of Sumerian culture along with the city of Ur and was of great religious significance within the culture.

Origins

The city of Uruk grew greatly during the Uruk Period (4100-2900 BCE) of Sumer history. While the area was previously inhabited during the Ubaid Period (5000-4100 BCE), it was during the Uruk Period that there developed not only more but larger cities in the region.

Archaeologists break the history of the Uruk Period into 8 more periods based on the layers of ruins excavated. They have determined that the city was most prosperous and influential through 4100-3000 BCE when Uruk shows the largest extent as an urban center and concentration of trade and other human activity.

No one really understands how the territory around Uruk or the city itself was originally governed. In archaeology this is known as the Uruk Phenomena as no one knows to what extent force was applied ensure peace within the city, if any at all. Some believe this may have been a unique golden age in civilization where humans were able to exist in relative prosperity without the need for force and violence.

It is also noted that there has been little of the site excavated and modern excavations are near impossible until the conflict subsides. The site of Uruk also appears to have exercised considerable more influence over the region that Ur which was located in a more favorable trade position which leads archaeologists to wonder why.

It may very well have to due with the religious aspects related to the city and the political power held by the elite there by we may never know until more excavations are completed.

Extensive Trade Network

Artifacts that were manufactured in Uruk can be seen in nearly every excavated site throughout Mesopotamia. One of the most widespread artifacts distributed throughout the region was a bevel rim bowl made from a mould that was mass-produced in the city of Uruk.

By all appearances it was just a bowl however, some researcher suggest it was intricately tied to an early Sumerian currency system. Based on the amount of grain in a bowl determined a workers payment. Researchers also note they were frequently discarded after use which is why they are so prevalent in the archaeological record.

This is known as one of the first mass-produced artifacts in all of ancient history, another first for the Sumer culture.

Early Dynastic Period

During the Early Dynastic Period (2900-2334 BCE) Uruk was still the major political power in the Mesopotamian region. This was a period of increased warfare between the city-states.

Lugal-Zage also chose Uruk as the seat of his empire which ended up being the last of the Sumerians as well. which followed the Uruk Period, Uruk was still the seat of power in the region, though in a much diminished state, and the major dynasties of the time ruled from the city. The great wall of Uruk, which was said to have been built by King Gilgamesh himself, still rose around the city when King Eannutum forged his First Dynasty of Lagash in 2500 BCE and established the first empire in the region. The later king of that empire, Lugal-Zage (also known as Lugalzagesi), so admired the city that he chose Uruk as his capital and seat of power. When Sumer was brought under the rule of the Akkadian Empire in 2334 BCE, Sargon of Akkad continued to pay special reverence to Uruk and the sacred districts of Inanna and Anu continued in use and, in fact, were renovated and improved upon.

Battle of Uruk

The Battle of Uruk (2271 BCE) occurred when the invading Akkadians under the leadership of Sargon the Great managed to siege the city of Uruk and claim victory over the Sumerian culture and bring it into the first ever Akkadian Empire. This battle was the decisive engagement which brought about the collapse of Sumer civilization and led to the creation of the first empire in the world.

During the siege of Uruk it appears that the city was destroyed for good.

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