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Text #9383

"Third Dynasty of Ur", in Wikipedia.

The Third Dynasty of Ur, also known as the Neo-Sumerian Empire, refers to both a 21st to 20th century BC (short chronology timeline) Sumerian ruling dynasty based in the city of Ur and a short-lived territorial-political state which some historians consider to have been a nascent empire. The Third Dynasty of Ur is commonly abbreviated as Ur III by historians studying the period.

The Third Dynasty of Ur was the last Sumerian dynasty which came to preeminent power in Mesopotamia. It began after several centuries of control by Akkadian and Gutian kings. It controlled the cities of Isin, Larsa and Eshnunna and extended as far north as the Jazira.

The Third Dynasty of Ur arose some time after the fall of the Akkad Dynasty. The period between the last powerful king of the Akkad Dynasty, Shar-Kali-Sharri, and the first king of Ur III, Ur-Nammu, is not well documented, but most Assyriologists posit that there was a brief “dark age”, followed by a power struggle among the most powerful city-states. On the king-lists, Shar-Kali-Shari is followed by two more kings of Akkad and six in Uruk; however, there are no year names surviving for any of these, nor even any artifacts confirming that any of these reigns was historical — save one artifact for Dudu of Akkad (Shar-Kali-Sharri’s immediate successor on the list). Akkad’s primacy, instead, seems to have been usurped by Gutian invaders from the Zagros, whose kings ruled in Mesopotamia for an indeterminate period (124 years according to some copies of the kinglist, only 25 according to others.) An illiterate and nomadic people, their rule was not conducive to agriculture, nor record-keeping, and by the time they were expelled, the region was crippled by severe famine and skyrocketing grain prices. Their last king, Tirigan, was driven out by Utu-hengal of Uruk, beginning the “Sumerian Renaissance”.

Following Utu-Hengal’s reign, Ur-Nammu (originally a general) founded the Third Dynasty of Ur, but the precise events surrounding his rise are unclear. The Sumerian King List tells us that Utu-hengal had reigned for seven years (or 426, or 26 in other copies), although only one year-name for him is known from records, that of his accession, suggesting a shorter reign.

It is possible that Ur-Nammu was originally his governor. There are two stelae discovered in Ur that include this detail in an inscription about Ur-Nammu’s life. Some scholars theorize that Ur-Nammu led a revolt against Utu-hengal, deposed him, and seized control of the region through force.

Another hypothesis is that Ur-Nammu was a close relative to Utu-hengal, and the latter had asked the former to rule over the city of Ur in his name. After four years of ruling in Ur, Ur-Nammu rose to prominence as a warrior-king when he crushed the ruler of Lagash in battle, killing the king himself. After this battle, Ur-Nammu seems to have earned the title ‘king of Sumer and Agade.’

Ur’s dominance over the Neo-Sumerian Empire was consolidated with the famous Code of Ur-Nammu, probably the first such law-code for Mesopotamia since that of Urukagina of Lagash centuries earlier. The Code of Ur-Nammu is quite similar to the famous code of Hammurabi, resembling its prologue and bodily structure. Extant copies, written in Old Babylonian, exist from Nippur, Sippar, and also Ur itself. Although the prologue credits Ur-Nammu, the author is still somewhat under dispute; some scholars attribute it to his son, Shulgi.

The prologue to the law-code, written in the first person, established the king as the beacon of justice for his land, a role that previous kings normally did not play. He claims to want justice for all, including traditionally unfortunate groups in the kingdom like the widower or the orphan.

More legal disputes were dealt with locally by government officials called mayors, although their decision could be appealed and eventually overthrown by the provincial governor. Sometimes legal disputes were publicly aired with witnesses present at a place like the town square or in front of the temple. However, the image of the king as the supreme judge of the land took hold, and this image appears in many literary works and poems. Citizens sometimes wrote letters of prayer to the king, either present or past.

Many significant changes occurred in the empire under Shulgi’s reign. He took steps to centralize and standardize the procedures of the empire. He is credited with standardizing administrative processes, archival documentation, the tax system, and the national calendar. He established a standing army of Ur. Shulgi was deified during his lifetime, an honor usually reserved for dead kings.

With the fall of the Ur III Dynasty after an Elamite invasion in 2004/1940 BC (middle/short chronology respectively), Babylonia fell under foreign (Amorite) influence.

Sumerian texts were mass-produced in the Ur III period; however, the word ‘revival’ to describe this period is misleading because archaeological evidence does not offer evidence of a previous period of decline. Instead, Sumerian began to take on a different form. As the Semitic Akkadian language became the common spoken language, Sumerian continued to dominate literature and also administrative documents. Government officials learned to write at special schools that used only Sumerian literature.

Some scholars believe that the Uruk Epic of Gilgamesh was written down during this period into its classic Sumerian form. The Ur III Dynasty attempted to establish ties to the early kings of Uruk by claiming to be their familial relations.

For example, the Ur III kings often claimed Gilgamesh’s divine parents, Ninsun and Lugalbanda, as their own, probably to evoke a comparison to the epic hero.

Another text from this period, known as “The Death of Urnammu”, contains an underworld scene in which Ur-Nammu showers “his brother Gilgamesh” with gifts.


Sallaberger, Walther; Westenholz, Aage (1999), Mesopotamien. Akkade-Zeit und Ur III-Zeit, Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis, 160/3, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, ISBN 3-525-53325-X

Van de Mieroop, Marc (2007), A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000–323 BC. Second Edition, Blackwell History of the Ancient World, Malden: Blackwell, ISBN 978-1-4051-4911-2

Text #9384

"Code of Ur-Nammu", in Wikipedia.

The Code of Ur-Nammu is the oldest known law code surviving today. It is from Mesopotamia and is written on tablets, in the Sumerian language c. 2100–2050 BC.

The first copy of the code, in two fragments found at Nippur, was translated by Samuel Kramer in 1952; these fragments are held at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. Owing to its partial preservation, only the prologue and 5 of the laws were discernible.[1] Kramer noted that luck was involved in the discovery:[1]

In all probability I would have missed the Ur-Nammu tablet altogether had it not been for an opportune letter from F. R. Kraus, now Professor of Cuneiform Studies at the University of Leiden in Holland... His letter said that some years ago, in the course of his duties as curator in the Istanbul Museum, he had come upon two fragments of a tablet inscribed with Sumerian laws, had made a "join" of the two pieces, and had catalogued the resulting tablet as No. 3191 of the Nippur collection of the Museum... Since Sumerian law tablets are extremely rare, I had No. 3191 brought to my working table at once. There it lay, a sun-baked tablet, light brown in color, 20 by 10 centimeters in size. More than half of the writing was destroyed, and what was preserved seemed at first hopelessly unintelligible. But after several days of concentrated study, its contents began to become clear and take shape, and I realized with no little excitement that what I held in my hand was a copy of the oldest law code as yet known to man.

Further tablets were found in Ur and translated in 1965, allowing some 40 of the 57 laws to be reconstructed.[2] Another copy found in Sippar contains slight variants.

Although the preface directly credits the laws to king Ur-Nammu of Ur (2112–2095 BC), the actual author who had the laws written down onto cuneiform tablets is still somewhat under dispute. Some scholars[who?] have attributed it to Ur-Nammu’s son Shulgi.

Although it is known that earlier law-codes existed, such as the Code of Urukagina, this represents the earliest extant legal text. It is three centuries older than the Code of Hammurabi. The laws are arranged in casuistic form of IF (crime) THEN (punishment)—a pattern followed in nearly all later codes. For the oldest extant law-code known to history, it is considered remarkably advanced, because it institutes fines of monetary compensation for bodily damage, as opposed to the later lex talionis (‘eye for an eye’) principle of Babylonian law; however, murder, robbery, adultery and rape were capital offenses.

The code reveals a glimpse at societal structure during the “Sumerian Renaissance”. Beneath the lugal (“great man” or king), all members of society belonged to one of two basic strata: The “lu” or free person, or the slave (male, arad; female geme). The son of a lu was called a dumu-nita until he married, becoming a “young man” (gurus). A woman (munus) went from being a daughter (dumu-mi), to a wife (dam), then if she outlived her husband, a widow (nu-ma-su), who could remarry.

The prologue, typical of Mesopotamian law codes, invokes the deities for Ur-Nammu’s kingship, Nanna and Utu, and decrees “equity in the land”.

"…After An and Enlil had turned over the Kingship of Ur to Nanna, at that time did Ur-Nammu, son born of Ninsun, for his beloved mother who bore him, in accordance with his principles of equity and truth... Then did Ur-Nammu the mighty warrior, king of Ur, king of Sumer and Akkad, by the might of Nanna, lord of the city, and in accordance with the true word of Utu, establish equity in the land; he banished malediction, violence and strife, and set the monthly Temple expenses at 90 gur of barley, 30 sheep, and 30 sila of butter. He fashioned the bronze sila-measure, standardized the one-mina weight, and standardized the stone weight of a shekel of silver in relation to one mina... The orphan was not delivered up to the rich man; the widow was not delivered up to the mighty man; the man of one shekel was not delivered up to the man of one mina."

One mina ( 1/60 of a talent ) was made equal to 60 shekels ( 1 shekel = 11 grams ) . Among the surviving laws are these:[4]

1. If a man commits a murder, that man must be killed.
2. If a man commits a robbery, he will be killed.
3. If a man commits a kidnapping, he is to be imprisoned and pay 15 shekels of silver.
4. If a slave marries a slave, and that slave is set free, he does not leave the household.
5. If a slave marries a native (i.e. free) person, he/she is to hand the firstborn son over to his owner.
6. If a man violates the right of another and deflowers the virgin wife of a young man, they shall kill that male.
7. If the wife of a man followed after another man and he slept with her, they shall slay that woman, but that male shall be set free. (§4 in some translations)
8. If a man proceeded by force, and deflowered the virgin female slave of another man, that man must pay five shekels of silver. (5)
9. If a man divorces his first-time wife, he shall pay (her) one mina of silver. (6)
10. If it is a (former) widow whom he divorces, he shall pay (her) half a mina of silver. (7)
11. If the man had slept with the widow without there having been any marriage contract, he need not pay any silver. (8)
13. If a man is accused of sorcery he must undergo ordeal by water; if he is proven innocent, his accuser must pay 3 shekels. (10)
14. If a man accused the wife of a man of adultery, and the river ordeal proved her innocent, then the man who had accused her must pay one-third of a mina of silver. (11)
15. If a prospective son-in-law enters the house of his prospective father-in-law, but his father-in-law later gives his daughter to another man, the father-in-law shall return to the rejected son-in-law twofold the amount of bridal presents he had brought. (12)
16. If [text destroyed...], he shall weigh and deliver to him 2 shekels of silver.
17. If a slave escapes from the city limits, and someone returns him, the owner shall pay two shekels to the one who returned him. (14)
18. If a man knocks out the eye of another man, he shall weigh out ½ a mina of silver. (15)
19. If a man has cut off another man’s foot, he is to pay ten shekels. (16)
20. If a man, in the course of a scuffle, smashed the limb of another man with a club, he shall pay one mina of silver. (17)
21. If someone severed the nose of another man with a copper knife, he must pay two-thirds of a mina of silver. (18)
22. If a man knocks out a tooth of another man, he shall pay two shekels of silver. (19)
24. [text destroyed...] If he does not have a slave, he is to pay 10 shekels of silver. If he does not have silver, he is to give another thing that belongs to him. (21)
25. If a man’s slave-woman, comparing herself to her mistress, speaks insolently to her, her mouth shall be scoured with 1 quart of salt. (22)
26. If a slave woman strikes someone acting with the authority of her mistress, [text destroyed...]
28. If a man appeared as a witness, and was shown to be a perjurer, he must pay fifteen shekels of silver. (25)
29. If a man appears as a witness, but withdraws his oath, he must make payment, to the extent of the value in litigation of the case. (26)
30. If a man stealthily cultivates the field of another man and he raises a complaint, this is however to be rejected, and this man will lose his expenses. (27)
31. If a man flooded the field of a man with water, he shall measure out three kur of barley per iku of field. (28)
32. If a man had let an arable field to a(nother) man for cultivation, but he did not cultivate it, turning it into wasteland, he shall measure out three kur of barley per iku of field. (29)

References Kramer, History begins at Sumer, pp. 52–55. Gurney and Kramer, “Two Fragments of Sumerian Laws,” 16 Assyriological Studies, pp. 13–19 Frayne, Ur III Period (2112-2004 B C)” University of Toronto Press, 1997 - Foreign Language Study - 489 pages Roth, Martha. Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, pp. 13-22.

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