The city of Ur is one of the oldest cities known to archaeology, located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers near the Persian Gulf. Ur is a place that often bears the title "cradle of civilization," which the Greeks called "the Land Between the Rivers," or Mesopotamia. The first settlers of this land were known as Ubaidians, identified with the Ubaid period from 5200-4500 B.C., and was ruled under a king known as Mes-Anni-Padda, who was succeeded by his son, A-Anni-Padda. But it wasn't until the Sumerians arrived when the land developed an established civilization, because they brought with them art and literature, which far surpassed that of the Ubaidians.
Ur is one of the sites where the epic of Gilgamesh was found, written in cuneiform in an example of the world's oldest written language. During the era when the Sumerian civilization lived in the city, Ur is believed to be the site where farming and writing first developed, from which villages first grew into cities, cities into kingdoms, and kingdoms into empires. Most of what was built in the city has long since crumbled into ruin, with the notable exception of the Sumerian "Ziggurat at Ur." The temple-pyramid is part of the ruins of an ancient Sumerian city. Another site, near the Ziggurat of Ur, is considered even more historically significant. The city is known in the Bible as "Ur of the Chaldees." This biblical name refers to the Chaldeans, who settled the area about 900 B.C., and is believed to have been the home of Abraham, a central figure in the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions.
By the year 2800 B.C., Ur was a well known city in Mesopotamia, and was one of the more powerful cities in the region. Ur was located along the ancient waterway of the Euphrates River, although the river has since shifted to a position to the north of the modern archaeological site. Because of its position near the river, Ur was in a prime location for agricultural and commercial growth.
The leaders of Ur were divided between three dynasties. The first was set up in roughly 2670 B.C. by the Sumerian leader Mesanepada, who is the earliest known king from the Sumerian city-states to be mentioned in contemporary documents. His son took over after his death around twenty years later, in 2650 B.C., and helped to construct the ancient temple of Ninhursag, five miles outside of the city's walls.
Not much is known about the second dynasty of Ur, as not much mention to it is made in the historical record. The third dynasty began in 2113 B.C., with the king Ur-Nammu as its first ruler. Under his rule, Ur became the seat of a vast empire, and opened up an important route to the Persian Gulf. Under Ur-Nammu, the city also experienced a resurgence in art and literature, and the famous ziggurat of Nanna, a local pagan moon god, was constructed.
The third dynasty of Ur ended in 2004 B.C., when the Elamites overthrow the king and razed the city to the ground.
When Ur was rebuilt soon after its destruction, it became part of the kingdom of Isin. As politics in the region shifted, so did control of the city, until it eventually became a part of the empire of Babylon. Further shifts in control of the city eventually put it under the control of the Assyrians, and of King Nebuchadnezzar II. A few more generations of Assyrian kings ruled over Ur, until finally, Persia conquered Babylonia, and the city began to become less prominent. Possibly because of the movement of the Euphrates River away from the city, Ur became all but uninhabited by 300 B.C.
British consul J.E. Taylor was the first western archaeologist to do a considerable amount of work at the ruins of Ur, excavating much of the ziggurat of Nanna during an expedition from 1854-1855. Later expeditions to the site continued, mostly carried out by the British, through the early decades of the twentieth century.
Evidence of a flood was also discovered in the ruins of the city, leading some to believe that it may have been the origin of flood legends from throughout the region, including the story of the Great Flood contained in the Biblical book of Genesis. However, most archaeologists doubt that this could have imprinted so heavily on the region's literature, as the flood was probably not all that large, and small floods around the Euphrates were likely not that uncommon.
As a religious center
Ur was a prominent center of the worship of the moon god Nana, as evidenced by the enormous ziggurat found in the ruins outside of the city. The worship of Nanna's Babylonian equivalent, a god called Sin, also occurred in the city.
Abraham, the founder of the Judeo-Christian belief system, may have also come from Ur, although there are some questions as to whether the biblical Ur of the Chaldees is a reference to the city of Ur or not. At the time that Abraham lived in Ur, he would have been named Abram.
- Stacey Pexa. Ur, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, mnsu.edu, 1999.
- Azzam Alwash. Water at war: Iraq's marshlands, once decimated by Saddam Hussein's campaign against his own people, are reviving with global aid, Natural History. FindArticles.com. 14 Nov, 2009.
- The Sumerian Ziggurat at Ur, Amazeing Art.
- Sumerian History
- Mike Francis. At the Cradle of Civilization: Ziggurat of Ur, The Oregonian, November 07, 2009.
- The Ziggurat of Ur, The British Museum.
- U.S. Soldiers Among First to Tour Ancient Iraqi Temple, Fox News, November 14, 2009.