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Uruk was among the most important cities (at one time, the many important) in ancient Mesopotamia. Follow to the Sumerian King List, it was started by King Enmerkar sometime approximately 4500 BCE. Located in the southern an ar of Sumer (modern day Warka, Iraq), Uruk was recognized in the Aramaic language as Erech which, the is believed, offered rise come the modern name because that the nation of Iraq (though one more likely derivation is Al-Iraq, the Arabic name for the region of Babylonia). The city that Uruk is most famous for its good king Gilgamesh and the epic tale of his pursuit for immortality but also for a number of `firsts" in the advance of human being which emerged there.

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It is considered the very first true city in the world, the beginning of writing, the very first example that architectural work in stone and the building of good stone structures, the origin of the ziggurat, and the an initial city to build the cylinder seal which the ancient Mesopotamians provided to designate an individual property or together a signature ~ above documents. Considering the prominence the cylinder seal had actually for the world of the time, and that that stood for one"s personal identity and reputation, Uruk could additionally be credited as the city which an initial recognized the prominence of the separation, personal, instance in the collective community. The city to be continuously occupied from its founding until c. 300 CE when, fan to both natural and man-made influences, people began to desert the area. That lay abandoned and buried until excavated in 1853 CE by wilhelm Loftus because that the brother Museum.

The Uruk Period

The Ubaid duration (c. 5000-4100 BCE) once the so-called Ubaid people very first inhabited the an ar of Sumer is followed by the Uruk period (4100-2900 BCE) during which time cities began to develop across Mesopotamia and Uruk became the most influential. The Uruk duration is split into 8 phases indigenous the oldest, v its prominence, and into its decrease based ~ above the levels of the ruins excavated and the background which the artifacts found there reveal. The city was most influential between 4100-c.3000 BCE as soon as Uruk was the biggest urban center and also the hub that trade and also administration.

In exactly what way Uruk rule the region, why and how it ended up being the first city in the world, and in what manner it worked out its government is not fully known. The chronicler Gwendolyn Leick writes:

The Uruk phenomenon is still much debated, as to what extent Uruk exercised political control over the big area extended by the Uruk artifacts, whether this relied on the use of force, and also which organizations were in charge. Too small of the site has been excavated to administer any for sure answers to this questions. However, it is clean that, in ~ this time, the urbanization procedure was collection in motion, concentrated at Uruk itself. (183-184)

Since the city that Ur had actually a an ext advantageous placement because that trade, further south towards the Persian Gulf, it would certainly seem come make feeling that city, rather than Uruk, would have actually wielded much more influence however this is not the case.

The city was many influential in between 4100-c.3000 BCE as soon as Uruk to be the largest urban center and the hub of trade and administration.

Artifacts native Uruk appear at practically every excavated website throughout Mesopotamia. The chronicler Julian Reade notes:

Perhaps the most striking example of the broad spread of some functions of the Uruk society consists in the circulation of what need to be one of the crudest forms ever made, the so-called beveled-rim bowl. This kind of bowl, mould-made and also mass-produced, is uncovered in large numbers transparent Mesopotamia and beyond. (30)

This bowl was the means by which employees seem to have been paid: through a certain amount of serial ladled right into a standard-sized bowl. The remains of this bowls, throughout every one of Mesopotamia, suggest that castle “were generally discarded instantly after use, prefer the aluminum foil containing a contemporary take-away meal” (Reade, 30). So well-known was the beveled-rim bowl that manufacturing centres sprang up throughout Mesopotamia extending as far away native Uruk as the city that Mari in the much north. Because of this, the is unclear if the key originated at Uruk or elsewhere (though Uruk is normally held together the bowl"s origin). If at Uruk, then the beveled-rim bowl must be counted among the numerous of the city"s achievements as it is the very first known instance of a mass-produced product.

The City Districts & Gods

The city was split into 2 sections, the Eanna District and also the enlarge Anu District, named for, and devoted to, the goddess Inanna and her grand-father-god Anu, respectively. The famed Mask the Warka (also well-known as `The Lady of Uruk") a sculpted marble female confront found in ~ Uruk, is thought about a likeness that Inanna and was many likely part of a bigger work from one of the holy places in her district.

The Eanna district was walled turn off from the remainder of the city however it is unsure if this to be for ceremonial purposes or if, in building the newer Eanna District, the contractors required a wall surface for some reason. The historian Samuel boy name Kramer suggests that Anu, the masculine god, presided over the early on city till the increase in popular of his daughter Inanna and, in ~ this time, she was offered a personal dwelling, complete with a wall, in the Eanna District.

Since temples were taken into consideration the literal meaning dwelling location of divine beings on earth, and since Inanna is regularly illustrated as a goddess who very much wanted things her own way, maybe the walled district was just to carry out her with some privacy. Kramer likewise notes that, also though Inanna ongoing to it is in a popular deity throughout Mesopotamia (eventually merging into Ishtar) goddesses decreased in power and also prestige at the same time, and also at the same rate, together women"s rights deteriorated. This gift the case, possibly the Eanna ar was walled off to restrict access to a masculine priestly class. Just like much worrying Uruk"s history, however, this theory remains mainly speculation.


Inanna play a pivotal duty in the mythological background of Uruk together it to be she that stole the sacred meh from her father-god Enki at the spiritual city that Eridu and brought them come Uruk. The meh were, in the indigenous of Kramer (who an initial translated the cuneiform) “divine decrees which are the communication of the culture pattern of Sumerian civilization.” together Eridu was considered, by the Sumerians, the an initial city produced by the gods and also a place holy to them, the removed of the meh to Uruk signified a transference that power and also prestige native one city come the other.

In the story of Inanna and also The God of Wisdom, Enki god go to great lengths, when he finds the meh space stolen, to have them brought ago to Eridu – yet in vain. Inanna has actually tricked her father and now Uruk, no Eridu, would certainly be the seat of power. Eridu was connected with rural life and the primordial sea native which life sprang; Uruk was the embodiment of the new method of life – the city. The story would certainly have noted an ancient Mesopotamian v the reason why Eridu declined in importance and Uruk rose to the heights the did: it to be the work of the gods.

Uruk"s importance & long Decline

During the early on Dynastic duration (2900-2334 BCE), which complied with the Uruk Period, Uruk to be still the chair of power in the region, though in a much decreased state, and also the significant dynasties of the moment ruled indigenous the city. The an excellent wall that Uruk, which was stated to have actually been built by King Gilgamesh himself, tho rose approximately the city once King Eannutum forged his very first Dynasty that Lagash in 2500 BCE and established the first empire in the region.

The later king of that empire, Lugal-Zage (also well-known as Lugalzagesi), for this reason admired the city that he determined Uruk as his capital and seat of power. As soon as Sumer was brought under the dominance of the Akkadian empire in 2334 BCE, Sargon of Akkad continued to pay unique reverence come Uruk and also the sacred districts of Inanna and Anu ongoing in use and, in fact, to be renovated and also improved upon.

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Pottery dish from Uruk Period
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin (CC BY-NC-SA)

Even though the city shed the place of pre-eminence it had enjoyed during the Uruk Period, it ongoing to play critical position down v the Ur III period (2047-1750 BCE). The third Dynasty the Ur administer in such a method as to offer birth come a Sumerian Renaissance and Uruk benefited from this as much as the remainder of the region. V the autumn of the city the Ur in 1750 BCE and the invasion of Sumer through Elamites, in addition to the attacks of the Amorites, Uruk went into decline along with the rest of Sumer.

The city ongoing to beat a far-reaching role, however, transparent the Seleucid and also Parthian periods of Sumer"s late history. This is a substantial allude to note in that plenty of other Sumerian cities fared much less well at this very same time. The sacred districts ongoing to it is in maintained, despite to lesser degrees, into the 7th century CE; lengthy past the moment when many other Mesopotamian cities had been abandoned. The chronicler Bertman writes, “Uruk had a life-span of 5,000 years. Its earliest layers lie practically unexplored, submerged deep in the dirt of the alluvial level from i beg your pardon its life when sprouted” (37). Perhaps hidden in the ancient ruins is the answer to why the first city in the people rose as it did, wherein it did, and remained so necessary to the world of Mesopotamia for so long. Unlike various other cities transparent the region, the was not abandoned till the Muslim conquest of Mesopotamia in 630 CE.

The answer come the secret of Uruk"s prominence, however, may be easier than that appears. The chronicler Paul Kriwaczek has detailed that any kind of important readjust in a society springs native “the everlasting conflict in between progressives and also conservatives, between the forward and backward looking, in between those who propose `let"s do something new" and also those who think `the old ways are best". No an excellent shift in society ever took location without such a contest” (21).

Perhaps the story of Inanna and also Enki and the transition of strength from Eridu come Uruk called of this very contest and also showed exactly how the old ways of landscape life, exemplified in the ancient site that Eridu, gave method to the increase of the city and also a brand-new kind of community. It had actually to occur somewhere, as soon as the process of urbanization began, and also the ar where it happened was in ~ Uruk.

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Editorial ReviewThis post has been reviewed because that accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.
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A freelance writer and also former part-time Professor of ideology at Marist College, new York, Joshua J. Mark has actually lived in Greece and also Germany and also traveled through Egypt. He has taught history, writing, literature, and philosophy in ~ the college level.