Text #9417"Uruk", in .
Uruk was an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates river, on the dried-up, ancient channel of the Euphrates River, some 30 km east of modern As-Samawah, Al-Muthannā, Iraq.
Uruk is the type site for the Uruk period. Uruk played a leading role in the early urbanization of Sumer in the mid 4th millennium BC. At its height c. 2900 BC, Uruk probably had 50,000–80,000 residents living in 6 km2 of walled area; making it the largest city in the world at the time. The legendary king Gilgamesh, according to the chronology presented in the Sumerian king list, ruled Uruk in the 27th century BC. The city lost its prime importance around 2000 BC, in the context of the struggle of Babylonia with Elam, but it remained inhabited throughout the Seleucid and Parthian periods until it was finally abandoned shortly before or after the Islamic conquest.
The site of Uruk was visited in 1849 by William Kennett Loftus who led the first excavations from 1850 to 1854. The Arabic name of Babylonia, al-ʿIrāq, is thought to be derived from the name Uruk, via Aramaic (Erech) and possibly Middle Persian (Erāq) transmission.
In myth and literature, Uruk was famous as the capital city of Gilgamesh, hero of the Epic of Gilgamesh. It is also believed Uruk is the biblical Erech (Genesis 10:10), the second city founded by Nimrod in Shinar.
In addition to being one of the first cities, Uruk was the main force of urbanization and state formation during the Uruk period, or ‘Uruk expansion’ (4000–3200 BC). This period of 800 years saw a shift from small, agricultural villages to a larger urban center with a full-time bureaucracy, military, and stratified society. Although other settlements coexisted with Uruk, they were generally about 10 hectares while Uruk was significantly larger and more complex. The Uruk period culture exported by Sumerian traders and colonists had an effect on all surrounding peoples, who gradually evolved their own comparable, competing economies and cultures. Ultimately, Uruk could not maintain long-distance control over colonies such as Tell Brak by military force.
Geographic factors underpin Uruk’s unprecedented growth. The city was located in the southern part of Mesopotamia, an ancient site of civilization, on the Euphrates rivers. Through the gradual and eventual domestication of native grains from the Zagros foothills and extensive irrigation techniques, the area supported a vast variety of edible vegetation. This domestication of grain and its proximity to rivers enabled Uruk’s growth into the largest Sumerian settlement, in both population and area, with relative ease.
Uruk’s agricultural surplus and large population base facilitated processes such as trade, specialization of crafts and the evolution of writing. Evidence from excavations such as extensive pottery and the earliest known tablets of writing support these events. Excavation of Uruk is highly complex because older buildings were recycled into newer ones, thus blurring the layers of different historic periods. The topmost layer most likely originated in the Jemdet Nasr period (3100–2900 BC) and is built on structures from earlier periods dating back to the Ubaid period.
According to the Sumerian king list, Uruk was founded by the king Enmerkar. Though the king-list mentions a king of Eanna before him, the epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta relates that Enmerkar constructed the House of Heaven for the goddess Inanna in the Eanna District of Uruk. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh builds the city wall around Uruk and is king of the city.
Uruk went through several phases of growth, from the Early Uruk period (4000–3500 BC) to the Late Uruk period (3500–3100 BC). The city was formed when two smaller Ubaid settlements merged. The temple complexes at their cores became the Eanna District and the Anu District dedicated to Inanna and Anu, respectively. The Anu District was originally called ‘Kullaba’ (Kulab or Unug-Kulaba) prior to merging with the Eanna District. Kullaba dates to the Eridu period when it was one of the oldest and most important cities of Sumer. There are different interpretations about the purposes of the temples. However, it is generally believed they were a unifying feature of the city. It also seems clear that temples served both an important religious function and state function. The surviving temple archive of the Neo-Babylonian period documents the social function of the temple as a redistribution center.
The Eanna District was composed of several buildings with spaces for workshops, and it was walled off from the city. By contrast, the Anu District was built on a terrace with a temple at the top. It is clear Eanna was dedicated to Inanna from the earliest Uruk period throughout the history of the city. The rest of the city was composed of typical courtyard houses, grouped by profession of the occupants, in districts around Eanna and Anu. Uruk was extremely well penetrated by a canal system that has been described as, “Venice in the desert.” This canal system flowed throughout the city connecting it with the maritime trade on the ancient Euphrates River as well as the surrounding agricultural belt.
The original city of Uruk was situated southwest of the ancient Euphrates River, now dry. Currently, the site of Warka is northeast of the modern Euphrates river. The change in position was caused by a shift in the Euphrates at some point in history, and may have contributed to the decline of Uruk.
Archeologists have discovered multiple cities of Uruk built atop each other in chronological order.
- Uruk XVIII Eridu period (c 5000 BC); the founding of Uruk
- Uruk XVIII-XVI Late Ubaid period (4800–4200 BC)
- Uruk XVI-X Early Uruk period (4000–3800 BC)
- Uruk IX-VI Middle Uruk period (3800–3400 BC)
- Uruk V-IV Late Uruk period (3400–3100 BC); The earliest monumental temples of Eanna District are built
- Uruk III Jemdet Nasr period (3100–2900 BC); The 9 km city wall is built
- Uruk II
- Uruk I
Although it had been a thriving city in Early Dynastic Sumer, especially Early Dynastic II, Uruk was ultimately annexed to the Akkadian Empire and went into decline. Later, in the Neo-Sumerian period, Uruk enjoyed revival as a major economic and cultural center under the sovereignty of Ur. The Eanna District was restored as part of an ambitious building program, which included a new temple for Inanna. This temple included a ziggurat, the ‘House of the Universe’ (Cuneiform: E2.SAR.A) to the northeast of the Uruk period Eanna ruins. The ziggurat is also cited as Ur-Nammu Ziggurat for its builder Ur-Nammu. Following the collapse of Ur (c 2000 BC), Uruk went into a steep decline until about 850 BC when the Neo-Assyrian Empire annexed it as a provincial capital. Under the Neo-Assyrians and Neo-Babylonians, Uruk regained much of its former glory. By 250 BC, a new temple complex the ‘Head Temple’ (Akkadian: Bīt Reš) was added to northeast of the Uruk period Anu district. The Bīt Reš along with the Esagila was one of the two main centers of Neo-Babylonian astronomy. All of the temples and canals were restored again under Nabopolassar. During this era, Uruk was divided into five main districts: the Adad Temple, Royal Orchard, Ištar Gate, Lugalirra Temple, and Šamaš Gate districts.
Uruk, now known as Orchoë to the Greeks, continued to thrive under the Seleucid Empire. During this period, Uruk was a city of 300 hectares. In 200 BC, the ‘Great Sanctuary’ (Cuneiform: E2.IRI12.GAL, Sumerian: eš-gal) of Ishtar was added between the Anu and Eanna districts. When the Seleucids lost Mesopotamia to the Parthians in 141 BC, Uruk again entered a period of decline from which it never recovered. The decline of Uruk may have been in part caused by a shift in the Euphrates River. By 300 AD, Uruk was mostly abandoned, and by c 700 AD it was completely abandoned.
Uruk has the first monumental constructions in architectural history. Much of Near Eastern architecture can trace its roots to these prototypical buildings. The structures of Uruk are cited by two different naming conventions, one in German from the initial expedition, and the English translation of the same. The stratigraphy of the site is complex and as such much of the dating is disputed. In general, the structures follow the two main typologies of Sumerian architecture, Tripartite with 3 parallel halls and T-Shaped also with three halls, but the central one extends into two perpendicular bays at one end. The following table summarizes the significant architecture of the Eanna and Anu Districts. Temple N, Cone-Mosaic Courtyard, and Round Pillar Hall are often referred to as a single structure; the Cone-Mosaic Temple.
Clay tablets have been found at Uruk with Sumerian and pictorial inscriptions that are thought to be some of the earliest recorded writing, dating to approximately 3300 BC. These tablets were deciphered and include the famous Sumerian King List, a record of kings of the Sumerian civilization. There was an even larger cache of legal and scholarly tablets of the Seleucid period, that have been published by Adam Falkenstein and other German epigraphists.
Baker, H.D. “The Urban Landscape in First Millennium BC Babylonia”. University of Vienna.
Beaulieu, Paul-Alain (2003). The Pantheon of Uruk During the Neo-Babylonian Period. BRILL. p. 424. ISBN 90-04-13024-1.
Charvát, Petr; Zainab Bahrani; Marc Van de Mieroop (2002). Mesopotamia Before History. London: Routledge. p. 281. ISBN 0-415-25104-4.
Crawford, Harriet E. W. (2004). Sumer and the Sumerians. Cambridge University Press. p. 252. ISBN 0-521-53338-4.
Fassbinder, Jörg W. E.; Becker, Helmut; van Ess, Margarete (2003). “Magnetometry at Uruk (Iraq): the city of king Gilgamesh”. Geophysical Research Abstracts (European Geophysical Society) 5 (9152): 1. Bibcode:2003EAEJA…..9152F. Retrieved 2009.
Harmansah, Ömür (2007-12-03). “The Archaeology of Mesopotamia: Ceremonial centers, urbanization and state formation in Southern Mesopotamia”. Retrieved 2011-08-28.
Oppenheim, A. Leo; Erica Reiner (1977). Ancient Mesopotamia: Portrait of a Dead Civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 445. ISBN 0-226-63187-7.