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Circa 2112 - circa 2095 b.c.e..

King of ur


Rise to Kingship. At the end of the twenty-second century b.c.e.. in Sumer, the city of Uruk was ruled by king Utu-hengal. Utu-hengal had expelled the hated Guti from the land and ruled the city of Ur through his governor, Ur-Namma, who may have been the king’s brother or son. At the death of Utu-hengal, who may have drowned while fishing, Ur-Namma ascended the throne and began a new dynasty that is today known as the Third Dynasty of Ur. Linking himself with the past glories of the city of Uruk, Ur-Namma claimed to be the elder brother of the legendary Gilgamesh, king of Uruk and a son of the goddess Ninsun (“the Lady of the Wild Cow”). According to the official ideology, the god Enlil assisted Ur-Namma and brought order to the “rebellious and hostile lands.” Enlil also “made Sumer flourish in joy, in days filled with prosperity.”

Builder of Temples. Ur-Namma embarked on a massive building program in honor of the city’s patron deities, the moon god Nanna and his consort Ningal, who was regarded as the mother of the sun god Utu, the lord of justice. He raised a great mud-brick platform in Ur and placed upon it a large zig-gurat, whose function is unknown. It was undoubtedly associated with religion, and its height, reaching in stages toward the heavens, may be connected with the homes of the gods. Ur-Namma also built ziggurats in religious centers at Eridu, Uruk, and Nippur. Ziggurats continued to be built at major Meso-potamian centers well into the Seleucid period (311–129 b.c.e..). Ur-Namma also built temples dedicated to the gods Enlil and Ninlil at Nippur, the holy city of the Sumerians. The construction of the E-kur, the foremost of these temples, with its brick terrace inlaid with gold and lapis lazuli, may have been initiated to win the political favor of the Nippur priesthood. Other temples were constructed throughout Sumer as well as in cities to the north in the land of Akkad. During the fourth year of his reign Ur-Namma was invested with the title King of Sumer and Akkad.

The Good Shepherd. Ur-Namma boasted that he was a good shepherd who cared for his people. He made the desert roads passable, reconstructed the quays for overseas commerce, rebuilt walls destroyed by the Guti, and made the land secure from outside invasion. Calling himself the “faithful farmer,” he cultivated the fields with oxen and built irrigation works that allowed for greater crop production.

The Laws of Ur-Namma. Ur-Namma also described himself as a social reformer, one who upheld justice, prosecuted the thief and criminal, and cared for the poor. As far as is presently known, he was the first monarch to collect legal precedents from his realm and issue a collection of laws. Written in Sumerian, these laws were phrased in a conditional (“if-then”) form that was later used in Babylonian, Assyrian, Hittite, and Hebrew legal collections. The laws of Ur-Namma were collected within a literary framework of prologue and epilogue (not preserved), a structure repeated in the later Sumerian laws of Lipit-Ishtar, in the code of Hammurabi, and in the Covenant Code of Israel (Exodus 21–23).

Death of Ur-Namma. Ur-Namma married a daughter to the ensi (ruler) of Anshan in Iran, a political maneuver meant to secure trade and treaty with an eastern neighbor. Despite his abilities as a diplomat and his desire to avoid war, Ur-Namma died from a wound in the field of battle. A description in a hymn of his burial rites and the beautifully wrought, precious-metal objects buried with him closely resembles discoveries made by Sir Leonard Woolley in the earlier royal tombs of the kings of the First Dynasty of Ur. The hymn describes how Ur-Namma was buried with his donkeys and chariots and how he had elaborate gifts to present to the gods in order to enter the desolate world of the dead.


Jeremy Black, Graham Cunningham, Jarle Ebeling, Esther Flückiger-Hawker, Eleanor Robson, Jon Taylor, and Gábor Zólyomi, The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature, The Oriental Institute, University of Oxford, 1998- <http://www-etcsl.orient.ox.ac.uk/>.

Piotr Steinkeller, “The Administrative and Economic Organization of the Ur III State: The Core and the Periphery,” in The Organization of Power: Aspects of Bureaucracy in the Ancient Near East, edited by McGuire Gibson and Robert D. Biggs, second edition, corrected (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1987), pp. 19–41.