History


TIMELINE BC

  • 5000 Early development of Sumer
  • 4000 High civilization developing
  • 3000 Political & military rivalries
  • 2750 Legendary Gilgamesh rules Uruk, Enmebaragesi & Agga rule Kish
  • 2550 Mesalim rules Kish
  • 2475 Ur-Nanshe rules Lagash, Meskalamdug rules Ur, military conflict between Lagash & Umma continues a long time.
  • 2375 Lugalzagesi of Umma unifies Sumer briefly
  • 2350 Sargon of Agade defeats Umma & takes over Sumer & Akkad & creates significant political & economic empire
  • 2230 Gutian invasion disrupts unity of Sumer & Akkad
  • 2175 Gudea rules Lagash
  • 2110 Ur-Nammu of Ur unifies Sumer & Akkad
  • 2030 Elamites disrupt unity of Sumer & Akkad
  • 2020 Ishbi-Erra the Amorite ruler of Isin seeks to rebuild unity in the land
  • 1795 Rim-Sin of Larsa defeats Isin & takes over Sumer & Akkad
  • 1760 Hammurapi of Babylon defeats Larsa & takes over Sumer & Akkad
  • 1720 Shift of Euphrates River & collapse of life at Nippur & some other cities of Sumer
  • 1595 Hittite raid disrupts unity of Sumer & Akkad



    The name 'Sumer' is derived from the Babylonian name for southern Babylonia: mt umeri 'the land of Sumer'. (construct state of mtum 'country' followed by genitive of Sumer).

    The Sumerians called their country ken.gi(r) 'civilized land', their language eme.gir and themselves sag.gi6.ga 'the black-headed ones'.

    Sumer may very well be the first civilization in the world (although long term settlements at Jericho and Catal Huyuk predate Sumer and examples of writing from Egypt and the Harappa, Indus valley sites may predate those from Sumer). From its beginnings as a collection of farming villages around 5000 BC, through its conquest by Sargon of Agade around 2370 BC and its final collapse under the Amorites around 2000 BC, the Sumerians developed a religion and a society which influenced both their neighbors and their conquerers. Sumerian cuneform, the earliest written language, was borrowed by the Babylonians, who also took many of their religious beliefs. In fact, traces and parallels of Sumerian myth can be found in Genesis.

    Sumer was a collection of city states around the Lower Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now southern Iraq. Each of these cities had individual rulers, although as early as the mid-fourth millenium BC the leader of the dominant city could have been considered the king of the region. The history of Sumer tends to be divided into five periods.

    They are the Uruk period, which saw the dominance of the city of that same name, the Jemdat Nasr period, the Early Dynastic periods, the Agade period, and the Ur III period - the entire span lasting from 3800 BC to around 2000 BC. In addition, there is evidence of the Sumerians in the area both prior to the Uruk period and after the Ur III Dynastic period, but relatively little is known about the former age and the latter time period is most heavily dominated by the Babylonians.

    The Uruk period, stretched from 3800 BC to 3200 BC. It is to this era that the Sumerian King Lists ascribe the reigns of Dumuzi the shepherd, and the other ante-diluvian kings. After his reign Dumuzi was worshiped as the god of the spring grains.

    An document, 'The Sumerian King List', records that eight kings reigned before the great Flood.

    After the Flood, various city-states and their dynasties of kings temporarily gained power over the others. The first king to unite the separate city-states was Etana, ruler of Kish (c. 2800 BC). Thereafter, Kish, Erech, Ur, and Lagash vied for ascendancy for hundreds of years, rendering Sumer vulnerable to external conquerors, first the Elamites (c. 2530-2450 BC) and later the Akkadians, led by their king Sargon (reigned 2334-2279 BC). Although Sargon's dynasty lasted only about 100 years, it united the city-states and created a model of government that influenced all of Middle Eastern civilization.

    After Sargon's dynasty ended and Sumer recovered from a devastating invasion by the semibarbaric Gutians, the city-states once again became independent. The high point of this final era of Sumerian civilization was the reign of the 3rd dynasty of Ur, whose first king, Ur-Nammu, published the earliest law code yet discovered in Mesopotamia.

    After 1900 BC, when the Amorites conquered all of Mesopotamia, the Sumerians lost their separate identity, but they bequeathed their culture to their Semitic successors, and they left the world a number of technological and cultural contributions, including the first wheeled vehicles and potter's wheels; the first system of writing, cuneiform; the first codes of law; and the first city-states.

    This time saw an enormous growth in urbanization such that Uruk probably had a population around 45,000 at the period's end. It was easily the largest city in the area, although the older cities of Eridu to the south and Kish to the north may have rivaled it. Irrigation improvements as well as a supply of raw materials for craftsmen provided an impetus for this growth. In fact, the city of An and Inanna also seems to have been at the heart of a trade network which stretched from what is now southern Turkey to what is now eastern Iran. In addition people were drawn to the city by the great temples there.

    The Eanna of Uruk, a collection of temples dedicated to Inanna, was constructed at this time and bore many mosaics and frescoes. These buildings served civic as well as religious purposes, which was fitting as the en, or high priest, served as both the spiritual and temporal leader. The temples were places where craftsmen would practice their trades and where surplus food would be stored and distributed.

    The Jemdat Nasr period lasted from 3200 BC to 2900 BC. It was not particularly remarkable and most adequately described as an extenson and slowing down of the Uruk period. This is the period during which the great flood is supposed to have taken place. The Sumerians' account of the flood may have been based on a flooding of the Tigris, Euphrates, or both rivers onto their already marshy country.

    The Early Dynastic period ran from 2900 BC to 2370 BC and it is this period for which we begin to have more reliable written accounts although some of the great kings of this era later evolved mythic tales about them and were deified. Kingship moved about 100 miles upriver and about 50 miles south of modern Bahgdad to the city of Kish. One of the earlier kings in Kish was Etana who "stabilized all the lands" securing the First Dynasty of Kish and establishing rule over Sumer and some of its neighbors. Etana was later believed by the Babylonians to have rode to heaven on the back of a giant Eagle so that he could receive the "plant of birth" from Ishtar (their version of Inanna) and thereby produce an heir.

    Meanwhile, in the south, the Dynasty of Erech was founded by Meskiaggasher, who, along with his successors, was termed the "son of Utu", the sun-god. Following three other kings, including another Dumuzi, the famous Gilgamesh took the throne of Erech around 2600 BC and became in volved in a power struggle for the region with the Kish Dynasts and with Mesannepadda, the founder of the Dynasty of Ur. While Gilgamesh became a demi-god, remembered in epic tales, it was Mesannepadda who was eventually victorious in this three-way power struggle, taking the by then traditional title of "King of Kish".

    Although the dynasties of Kish and Erech fell by the wayside, Ur could not retain a strong hold over all of Sumer. The entire region was weakened by the struggle and individual city-states continued more or less independent rule. The rulers of Lagash declared themselves "Kings of Kish" around 2450 BC, but failed to seriously control the region, facing several miltary challanges by the nearby Umma. Lugalzagesi, ensi or priest-king of Umma from around 2360-2335 BC, razed Lagash, and conquered Sumer, declaring himself "king of Erech and the Land". Unfortunately for him, all of this strife made Sumer ripe for conquest by an outsider and Sargon of Agade seized that opportunity.

    Sargon united both Sumer and the northern region of Akkad - from which Babylon would arise about four hundred years later - not very far from Kish. Evidence is sketchy, but he may have extended his realm from the Medeterranian Sea to the Indus River. This unity would survive its founder by less than 40 years. He built the city of Agade and established an enormous court there and he had a new temple erected in Nippur. Trade from across his new empire and beyond swelled the city, making it the center of world culture for a brief time.

    After Sargon's death, however, the empire was fraught with rebellion. Naram-Sin, Sargon's grandson and third successor, quelled the rebellions through a series of military successes, extending his realm. He declared himself 'King of the Four corners of the World' and had himself deified. His divine powers must have failed him as the Guti, a mountain people, razed Agade and deposed Naram-Sin, ending that dynasty.

    After a few decades, the Guti presence became intollerable for the Sumerian leaders. Utuhegal of Uruk/Erech rallied a coalition army and ousted them. One of his lieutenants, Ur-Nammu, usurped his rule and established the third Ur dynasty around 2112 BC. He consolidated his control by defeating a rival dynast in Lagash and soon gained control of all of the Sumerian city-states. He established the earliest known recorded law-codes and had constructed the great ziggurat of Ur, a kind of step-pyramid which stood over 60' tall and more than 200' wide. For the next century the Sumerians were extremely prosperous, but their society collapsed around 2000 B.C. under the invading Amorites. A couple of city-states maintained their independence for a short while, but soon they and the rest of the Sumerians were absorbed into the rising empire of the Babylonians.

    The once-majestic city of Kish is today only ruins. It lies between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) east of the site of Babylon in what is now Iraq. Inscriptions in the ruins state that it was "the first city founded after the Flood."

    As the traditional first capital of the Sumerians, Kish was an early center of civilization.

    In ancient times, the area was fertile. The Sumerians settled along a bend of the Euphrates River. They built a fortified city, more than 5 miles (8 kilometers) long and almost 2 miles (3 kilometers) wide. Until as late as the time of King Sargon I (about 2300 BC), Kish dominated the Near East. Then it declined because the Euphrates changed its course. Finally it was abandoned, and desert sand covered its ruins.


    Archaeologists excavated the ruins between 1923 and 1933. Digging to virgin soil, 60 feet (18 meters) below the top of the mound, the expedition found remains of several cultures, from Neolithic times to the Christian Era. A band of alluvial soil about 40 feet (12 meters) below the surface indicated that Kish had been flooded in about 3200 BC.

    Many take this to be evidence of the great Biblical flood. Astounding also was the discovery, below the flood stratum, of a four-wheeled chariot, the earliest known wheeled vehicle. Other discoveries showing the highly developed Sumerian civilization were thick-walled temple towers, canals, and a library with some of the earliest known writing.

    
    
    
    
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