|Marshes of southern Mesopotamia|
And earth beneath had not come into being—
There was Apsu, the first in order, their begetter…
“Enuma Elish”, Babylon c. 1700BC
Looking back through the blogs I realised that while I had written a post about the ancient Sumerian culture I had omitted to give a decent timeline of this impressive civilisation. So, while my overall general thoughts on Sumerian culture can be found in the previous post, this one will focus primarily on just giving an overall timeline of the events of this culture. Due to the chronological issues (to be dealt with in a later post) all dates are given in short chronology and should be treated as subject to academic debate.
After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridu.
In Eridu, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28,800 years.
Alalgar ruled for 36,000 years.
Two kings; they ruled for 64800 years.
“Sumerian Kinglist” (from a translation of a prism found at Larsa, c. 2000BC)
|Artists impression of Eridu|
“Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta”, lines 500–06, Ur, c2100BC (after Vanstiphout 2003, p. 85): Mesopotamian account of the origin of writing
|Ruins of Temple of Inanna in Uruk|
En-me-barage-si, the king, built the Iri-nanam in Enlil's temple. Aga, son of En-me-barage-si, made the Tummal flourish and brought Ninlil into the Tummal. Then the Tummal fell into ruins for the first time.
“The History of the Tummal” 1-6: Documents of En-me-barage-si, a supposed contemporary of Gilgamesh
Around 2900BC a dynasty of heroic figures, Meshki-Angasher, Enmerkar, Lugalbanda and Gilgamesh supposedly arose in Uruk. Their exploits became legendary (the Sumerian equivalent to the heroic age for the Greeks). It is unclear if they actually existed but the fact that some of their supposed rivals were historical figures allows the possibility that these heroes may have some basis in fact. The main point is that Uruk is no longer dominant around this time. Other cities have emerged, such as the Sumerian cities of Lagash, Larsa, Isin, Umma, Kish, Nippur and Aratta (Aratta’s location is unclear but it was probably not Sumerian and probably located to the east of Sumer). Larsa was quite close to Uruk and the two were often in competition but the other cities were further north.
|Ceremonial dagger from Ur|
Ur he defeated.
Kiutu he defeated.
Iriaz he destroyed,
and its ruler he killed.
Mishime he destroyed.
Arua he obliterated.
the one nominated by Ningirsu,
all the lands trembled.
The Eannatum Boulder c. 2430BC
Warfare is described from this period and the Elamite civilisation to the east provided a worthy adversary to the Sumerian states. Unfortunately the Proto-Elamite script is as yet undeciphered so the accounts of battle are one-sided. Eannatum of Lagash created a tenuous empire around 2500BC and erected what is known as the Stele of Vultures to celebrate a victory over Umma, as well as numerous other monuments. Bows, helmets, body armour, shields, formations and chariots are all in evidence at this time. It should be noted though that the chariot was likely pulled by onagers rather than horses, which were not domesticated in that area at that point.
The quantity and quality of the grave goods is quite astonishing and, while these items were mainly ceremonial, it is testimony to the skill of the Sumerian craftsmen that they were able to create such works. I have attached two pictures of the grave goods of Ur. Photo credit is from sumerianshakespeare.com so do head over to that site for more incredible pictures. It is interesting to note that one of those buried (Puabi) may have been a queen, but also that she may not have been Sumerian. Another people group coexisted with the Sumerians in the south of Iraq but they spoke a different language; a Semitic language afterwards called Akkadian.
In those days, although writing words on tablets existed, putting tablets into envelopes did not yet exist. King Ur-Zababa despatched Sargon, the creature of the gods, to Lugal-zage-si in Uruk with a message written on clay, which was about murdering Sargon.
Sargon and Ur-Zababa: Description of the rise of Sargon; in this extract his master sends Sargon to his arch-rival, hoping his arch-rival will kill him.
|Sargon of Akkad|
Akkadian rule was strongly resented and there were numerous revolts against Sargon and the kings that followed him (Rimush, Manishtushu and Naram-Sin). During one of these revolts a Sumerian called Lugal-Ane (lugal may be a title here) took Ur and stripped Enheduanna of her priestly title. A surviving hymn of Enheduanna (most probably the world’s first named author) gives a lament to Inanna (the Sumerian name for the goddess Ishtar) about her loss.
I, Enheduana, will recite a prayer to you. To you, holy Inanna, I shall give free vent to my tears like sweet beer! … In connection with the purification rites of holy An, Lugal-Ane has altered everything of his, and has stripped An of the E-ana. He has not stood in awe of the greatest deity. He has turned that temple, whose attractions were inexhaustible, whose beauty was endless, into a destroyed temple.
The Exaltation of Inanna, by Enheduanna c.2250BC: Description of the revolt against the Akkadian Empire.
|Victory Stele of Naram-Sin|
The life of Akkad's sanctuary was brought to an end as if it had been only the life of a tiny carp in the deep waters, and all the cities were watching it. Like a mighty elephant, it bent its neck to the ground while they all raised their horns like mighty bulls. Like a dying dragon, it dragged its head on the earth and they jointly deprived it of honour as in a battle.
The Cursing of Akkad, c.2000BC: Description of the end of the Akkadian Empire
|King Gudea of Lagash|
"When you, true shepherd Gudea, really set to work for me on my house, the foremost house of all lands, the right arm of Lagash, the Anzu bird roaring on the horizon, the E-ninnu, my royal house, I will call up to heaven for humid winds so that plenty comes down to you from heaven and the land will thrive under your reign in abundance."
The Building of Ningirsu’s temple c.2130 BC
The reign of the kings of Lagash was effectively ignored by the later rulers of Ur. Utu-Hegal a king of Uruk defeated the Gutians but his leadership was usurped by Ur-Nammu of Ur. Ur-Nammu and his son Shulgi led a renaissance of Sumerian culture with an empire that across all the cities of the south and initiated a program of rebuilding in all the cities. The Great Ziggurat of Ur reached its current form under the reign of Shulgi and the vast amount of documentation produced makes it one of the best documented periods of history for administrative affairs. The law codes of Ur-Nammu are some of the first codifications of law in history.
"O Utu, Enlil has given Gutium to me, may you be my help!" He laid a trap … behind the Gutian. Utu-Hegal, the mighty man, defeated their generals.
Then Tirigan the king of Gutium ran away alone on foot. He thought himself safe in Dabrum, where he fled to save his life; but since the people of Dabrum knew that Utu-Hegal was a king endowed with power by Enlil, they did not let Tirigan go, and an envoy of Utu-Hegal arrested Tirigan together with his wife and children in Dabrum. He put handcuffs and a blindfold on him. Before Utu, Utu-Hegal made him lie at his feet and placed his foot on his neck. … He brought back the kingship of Sumer.
The Victory of Utu-Hegal (grandfather of Shulgi) c. 2100BC
|Ziggurat of Ur|
Mother Ningal, like an enemy, stands outside her city. The woman laments bitterly over her devastated house. Over her devastated shrine Urim, the princess bitterly declares:
"An has indeed cursed my city, my city has been destroyed before me.
Enlil has indeed transformed my house, it has been smitten by pickaxes.
On my ones coming from the south he hurled fire.
Alas, my city has indeed been destroyed before me.
On my ones coming from the highlands Enlil hurled flames.
Outside the city, the outer city was destroyed before me,
I shall cry "Alas, my city".
Inside the city, the inner city was destroyed before me,
I shall cry "Alas, my city".
My houses of the outer city were destroyed,
I shall cry "Alas, my houses".
My houses of the inner city were destroyed,
I shall cry "Alas, my houses"."
“Lament of Ur”, 254-264, c.1900BC