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The History and Religion of
ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIA

  from ~3000 BC until the time of ABRAHAM (~2000 BC)  

 

 

We cannot help comparing our present day knowledge with the history of Man that is presented in the Bible. Due to the work of scholars who have deciphered hieroglyphics and cuneiform writing which were engraved on tablets of dried clay, we can verify information about life as it was 50 centuries ago in ancient Mesopotamia. This is an interesting study where we see, as in Egypt's first official dynasties, periods of great spirituality, where people were pious and peaceful; then suddenly these were replaced by periods of great violence, when kings reigned who were adored as powerful gods...

We do not intend to study all the kings and the wars between kingdoms and small states, but instead to concentrate on the virtues and moral values of the first known kings of Sumer, in order to compare these values and beliefs with those of other peoples of the Middle East at that time.

It is also interesting to study the history of the common people, the politics and the attacks by invaders who lived around the period 2000 BC - the time of ABRAHAM, the father of three modern-day religions : Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

 

1.  The first "small kingdoms" of Sumer  

 

THE PERIOD OF URUK  (3700 BC TO 2700 BC)

 

Around 3500 BC, the Sumerians settled on the banks of the Tiger and Euphrates rivers to found their first cities. The cereal crops cultivated by the peasants served as currency.

About the year 3000 BC, by democratic voting and decision making, the governments set up a system of hereditary monarchy. The role of the minor local kings was to manage the affairs of the cities and to protect them against possible barbarian invaders, who could attack from the nearby mountains of Elam (present day Persia or Iran).

 

Principal "City-States or mini-kingdoms" of that period :

 KISH  URUK (or ERECH)  UR  LAGASH

 

During the reign of King ETANA, Kish became the principal city of the kingdom of Sumer.

In 2875 BC, Sumer fell into the hands of Semitic people from the region of Akkad.

Around the year 2850 BC King MESKIAN-GASHER of Uruk declared his domination over the rival city of Kish. At the same time, two other important city-states : MARI et EBLA developed north of the Euphrates.

In 2800 BC, again in Uruk, King DUMUZI came to the throne and became part of mythology (see "the religion of Sumer").

 

THE PERIOD OF THE ANCIENT DYNASTIES (2700 TO 2335 BC)

Between :

 2700 BC and

2600 BC

City of Kish

Reign of King

 Emmaberagesi

City of Uruk

 The great King

GILGAMESH

Construction at UR
 of a royal cemetery

by the kings :
Meskaladung &
Akalamdung

 

About 2622 BC, Sumer threw off the domination of the Semitic tribes which dominated it.

 

Kings of Ur of the Chaldees

Kings of KISH

Kings of Lagash

 2560 to 2525 BC Mesannepadda

 2525 to 2485 BC Aannepadda

 2485 to 2450 BC Meskiagnunna

2550 BC Mesilim

  ?

  ?

2570 BC  En-hegal

?

2490  BC Ur-Nanshe

  

The King LUGA LANNEMUNDU of the Sumerian city of Adab put
an end
the brief
domination of the neighbouring ELAMITES (future Persians)

who invaded SUMER and made the inhabitants give him a tax or bounty.

Kings of UR

Kings of KISH

Kings of LAGASH

 2450 BC Elili

   ?           Balili

 2430 BC  Enbi-Ishtar

 2380 BC  Puzur-Sîn

 2340 BC  Ur-Zabada

 2465 BC  Akurgal

 2455 BC  Eannatum *

 2400 BC  Entemana

 

In 2480 BC, King Ar-Ennum of EBLA defeated and deposed Iblul II, the King of MARI, a town situated north of the Euphrates. He reigned over the two city states, followed by his two sons and heirs: Ebrium and Ibbi-Sipish until the start of the dynasty of Akkad.

Around 2457 BC, King Eannatum of Lagash chased out the Elamites from Sumer, took over the government of Mari, seized the 2 cities of UR and URUK (ERECH), then annexed KISH. Thus he reigned over the entire region of Sumer. However, Eannatum died suddenly in 2425 BC, and Lugalzagesi, the King of UMMA, a town situated about 30 km north of Uruk, marched against the neighbouring town of Girsu, which he pillaged and burned. Taking possession of Lagash, UR and Uruk he proclaimed himself King over all the princes of Sumer, (from 2340 to 2316 BC).

 

2. SARGON of AKKAD "the child saved from waters"

 

SARGON became the first King of the dynasty of AKKAD, the central region of Mesopotamia, (between the Euphrates and Tiger rivers north of Nippur). He was born in Azupiranu, (the saffron-colored city on the banks of the Euphrates). His mother was a high priestess, who brought him secretly into the world, placed him in a basket (made waterproof with pitch) and put him into the river. (This is reminiscent of the story of Moses). He was saved by a drawer of water named Aggi, who adopted him, raised him and taught him the trade of gardener.

Starting as a servant of Ur-Zabada, King of Kish, he gained the position of cup-bearer. One day he rebelled against his benefactor, dethroned him, and marched on URUK, which was ruled by the all-powerful LUGALZAGESI. Having conquered the town by surprise, he destroyed the ramparts and succeeded in capturing the great King during the battle. Sargon locked Lugalzagesi in an iron collar, and transported him to the temple of Enlil at NIPPUR, the spiritual capital of Mesopotamia.

 


Head of Sargon - Nineveh; ~2300 BC

 

3. The reign of SARGON (from 2334 to 2279 BC)

 

By taking the throne at Nippur, Sargon, a Mesopotamian Semite, became the first King of the dynasty of Akkad. He built himself a great empire which extended past the original frontiers. Although he declared himself to be the "OINT of Anum" and the priest of Enlil, Sargon respected the religions and temples of the Sumerians. After taking UR, he made his daughter Enheduanna the high priestess of the moon-god: NANNA. Then he took the cities of Lagash and Umma, and attacked the high country of Mesopotamia, to gain the submission of three large cities: "Ebla, Iamarti and Mari" which from then on gave him a large annual bounty.

Sargon's ambition did not end there -- he led his army in two campaigns into Elam (Persia/Iran) to subdue the two principalities of Awan and Warahshe (its ally). The towns were sacked but not destroyed. Sargon made vassals of the two chiefs on receiving their surrender. Then he entered SUSE, the chief city of ELAM, and made it "the capital of ELAM", leaving the power in the hands of its former viceroy. Using the numerous slaves that he had captured in his many campaigns, Sargon enlarged and maintained innumerable irrigation canals to cultivate cereals.

Between Kish and Babilim (the future Babylon) he built his "new royal capital of AGADE", with its huge palace and double ramparts of fortification. As this city was situated on the ancient trail of the Euphrates, he enlarged the port so that it could accommodate all the ships of that time. He started a system of permanent inspection and transfer of cavalry every 50 km. Each of these posts was managed by a royal officer. According to legend, he took his armies to Creta, Cyprus and even as far as Anatolia.

Sargon, who ruled for 50 years, pronounced himself the protégé of the goddess ISHTAR which did not prevent him, (despite his advanced age), from vigorously defending his coveted throne. As soon as Sargon was dead, his son RIMUSH (2278 BC to 2270 BC) had to quell a rebellion, which he did with terrible violence -- this earned him the nickname "Buffalo Aurochs". Hated by his subjects, he was assassinated by his servants.

MANISHTUSU, (brother of RIMUSH), ruled from 2270 BC to 2255 BC. He started out by restoring order in the vassal states of Elam, which were trying to gain their independence. Using all his power, he decided to lead a campaign on the banks of the Arabian/Persian Gulf, where he put down the uprisings in two vassal cities : Ansham and Sherihum. Then with a huge fleet he conquered and pillaged "32 cities" which lay between Qatar at Magan to the country of OMAN in Arabia. After killing the princes who reigned beyond the coastal mountains, he plundered their silver mines (ingots of silver served as money), and great black stones (diorite), one of which he chose from which was sculpted his own statue which he installed in the great temple of Enlil at Nippur.

NARAM-SIN (the beloved of Sin), who succeeded him and ruled from 2254 BC to 2218 BC was called "the god of AGADE". He ordered that his name be preceded by the sign of a star on tablets (the sign of the gods). Lugalbanda and Gilgamesh were deified after death, but NARAM-SIN became the first living god-king of his country. He laid waste Arman and Ebla, which were later reconstructed. He took control of Amanus (the mountain of cedars in present day Lebanon), and destroyed the ancient palace of Mari. After a campaign against the Hurrites in the north, he marched to the east against the Lullubis settled in Kurdistan, who were robbing the caravans crossing the mountain passes. Already one heard of "the ferocious GOUTIS" who lived on the high Iranian plateau close to Kurdistan. During the life of Naram-Sin, the governor of Suse: Puzur-Inshuhinak remained the vassal of the King of Agade, but declared himself independent when Naram-Sin's son, "SHAR KALLI-SHARRI" became King. Puzur-Inshuhinak invaded two neighbouring principalities and had the audacity to take his army to the heart of the country of Akkad.

Shar-Kalli-Sharri who came to the throne of Akkad in 2217 BC had also to face several invaders, in particular the MARTU, (Amorites) who arrived in hordes causing great havoc! On the death of Shar-Kalli-Sharri in 2193 BC, the great kingdom of AKKAD sank into anarchy, and for 91 years the GOUTI invaders became the masters of the land. The temple of Ishtar at Assur and the palace of Naram-Sin were pillaged and destroyed. Happily the invaders did not take over the cities of Sumer, who could continue to trade and develop.

At around 2123 BC, UTU-HEGAL, "Lugal" of Uruk, decided to throw off the yoke of the GOUTIS by imprisoning the ambassadors of Tiriqan the King of the Goutis, who gave up the fight and went to ask for pardon from the king of Uruk. Alas, his reign was short, as he was dethroned by UR-NAMMU, the governor of Ur, who was crowned in 2112 BC "King of Sumer, Ur and Akkad" -- his reign lasting until 2095 BC. UR-NAMMU standardized the weights and measures in the mines. He formulated a system of law which tried to establish justice for the underprivileged, notably the widows and orphans who were desperately poor. He also made rules for punishing the rich who abused their power by beating and violating their slaves.

There were also laws in this new code to punish those who bore false witness, and laws to financially compensate people who were victims of robbery and injury, and particularly indemnities for wives treated badly by their husbands. We should note that the Egyptians had already had laws for 5 centuries of a similar kind; that is to protect widows, orphans, slaves and servants. Are we seeing here some religious influence from Egypt? Is it possible that these laws protected by the priests (despite a polytheistic majority) was motivating each individual to behave charitably towards his neighbours to guide the virtuous souls towards heaven after death.

UR-NAMMU was killed in combat and his body taken to UR to be solemnly buried with treasure, which was brought with him to ingratiate him with the gods in the hereafter.

His son SHULGI succeeded him from 2094 BC to 2047 BC. During his long reign, he led campaigns against Kurdistan to assure control over the important route over the Tiger to Armenia. He concluded a treaty with ELAM, in which he offered one of his daughters in marriage to the King of Warahshe. Then he gave his second daughter as a bride to the governor of Ansham. In religious matters, he made himself worshipped as a living god by building temples and statues where people could come with their offerings to him. He died in 2046 BC, and was buried in a superb two story mausoleum whose ruins can still be seen today near the old royal cemetery of UR. His son AMAR-SIN succeeded him until 2038 BC. Like his father, he was called "the sun god", and defended his country by conducting two campaigns in Kurdistan and one in the mountains of Elam. He insisted on being buried in the same mausoleum as his father Shulgi.

 

 
Ziggourat of Ur restored by L. Wooley

 

4.  The fall of UR : around 2004 BC

 

"SHU-SIN", brother of the preceding king succeeded him until 2029 BC. When rebels attacked his son-in-law, the King of Simanum, he flew to his aid and defeated the enemy. Then he took charge of the prisoners and incarcerated them in a fortified town that he had specially built near Nippur ! Then he built a great wall 275 km long, called the wall of the "MARTUS (part of theTidnum)"; Tidnum being the name of the Amorites, half of whom occupied Synia and Canaan, and the other half were nomadic shepherds with barbaric ways -- attacking villages and travellers.

In 2028 BC, the divine IBBI-SIN succeeded his father. However 2 years later the disintegration of the empire of UR began: Eshvunna in the valley of Diyala, then Suse the next year declared themselves independent, followed by Lagash, Der and Umma. The loss of the revenue from these cities drastically affected the economy of Sumer, which was forced into inflation and poverty. Thus when in 2017 BC, the MARTUS broke down the great wall of separation, famine had already devastated UR.

In 2009 BC the kingdom split in two, Ibbi-Sin on one side, and on the other Ishbi-Erra, a traitor, who used the money to buy grain to purchase mercenaries to conquer Nippur !

In 2007 BC, the Elamites invaded, (they were allies of the people to the north), but the traitor Ishbi-Erra repulsed them. The invaders returned in 2004 BC and broke through the fortifications that Ur-Nammu had built. Ur, the magnificent, was sacked and destroyed. The inhabitants who could not escape were slaughtered. Ibbi-Sin died in exile in the country of Anshan, which he himself had previously devastated.

 

 The towns of the Middle East, 2200 BC

 

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