Uruk (Sumerian: unug; Akkadian: uruk, Biblical Hebrew: Erech, Greek: Ορχόη, Ωρύγεια Orchoē, Ōrugeia; modern Arabic وركاء Warkā') was an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates river, on the ancient dry former channel of the Euphrates River. In myth, Uruk was founded by Enmerkar, who brought the official kingship with him, according to the Sumerian king list. He also, in the epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, constructs the House of Heaven for the goddess Inanna in the Eanna District of Uruk.
Uruk is the namesake of the Uruk period, the protohistoric Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age period in the history of Mesopotamia (ca. 4300-3100 BCE). In addition to being one of the first cities, Uruk was the main force of urbanization during the Uruk Period. This period saw a shift from small, agricultural villages to a larger urban center with a full-time bureaucracy, military, and stratified society.
Although other settlements coexisted with Uruk they were generally about 10 hectares while Uruk was significantly larger and more complex. The Uruk period culture exported by Sumerian traders and colonists had an effect on all surrounding peoples, who gradually evolved their own comparable, competing economies and cultures. At its height c 2900 BCE, Uruk probably had 50,000–80,000 residents living in 6 square km of walled area; the largest city in the world at the time.
Districts of the City
Uruk went through several phases of growth, from the Early Uruk period (4000–3500 BC) to the Late Uruk period (3500–3100 BC). The city was formed when two smaller Ubaid settlements merged. The temple complexes at their cores became the Eanna District and the Anu District dedicated to Inanna and Anu, respectively. The Anu District was originally called 'Kullaba' (Kulab or Unug-Kulaba) prior to merging with the Eanna District. Kullaba dates to the Eridu period when it was one of the oldest and most important cities of Sumer. There are different interpretations about the purposes of the temples. However, it is generally believed they were a unifying feature of the city. It also seems clear that temples served both an important religious function and state function. The surviving temple archive of the Neo-Babylonian period documents the social function of the temple as a redistribution center.
The Eanna District was composed of several buildings with spaces for workshops, and it was walled off from the city. By contrast, the Anu District was built on a terrace with a temple at the top. It is clear Eanna was dedicated to Inanna from the earliest Uruk period throughout the history of the city. The rest of the city was composed of typical courtyard houses, grouped by profession of the occupants, in districts around Eanna and Anu. Uruk was extremely well penetrated by a canal system that has been described as, "Venice in the desert." This canal system flowed throughout the city connecting it with the maritime trade on the ancient Euphrates River as well as the surrounding agricultural belt.
Reasons for Uruk's Prominence
Geographic factors underpin Uruk's unprecedented growth. The city was located in the southern part of Mesopotamia, an ancient site of civilization, on the Euphrates rivers. Through the gradual and eventual domestication of native grains from the Zagros foothills and extensive irrigation techniques, the area supported a vast variety of edible vegetation. This domestication of grain and its proximity to rivers enabled Uruk's growth into the largest Sumerian settlement, in both population and area, with relative ease. Uruk's agricultural surplus and large population base facilitated processes such as trade, specialization of crafts and the evolution of writing. Evidence from excavations such as extensive pottery and the earliest known tablets of writing support these events.
Historic periods of Uruk
Archeologists have discovered multiple cities of Uruk built atop each other in chronological order.
- Uruk XVIII Eridu period (c 5000 BC); the founding of Uruk
- Uruk XVIII-XVI Late Ubaid period (4800–4200 BC)
- Uruk XVI-X Early Uruk period (4000–3800 BC)
- Uruk IX-VI Middle Uruk period (3800–3400 BC)
- Uruk V-IV Late Uruk period (3400–3100 BC); The earliest monumental temples of Eanna District are built
- Uruk III Jemdet Nasr period (3100–2900 BC); The 9 km city wall is built
- Uruk II
- Uruk I
Uruk into late Antiquity
Although it had been a thriving city in Early Dynastic Sumer, especially Early Dynastic II, Uruk was ultimately annexed to the Akkadian Empire and went into decline. Later, in the Neo-Sumerian period, Uruk enjoyed revival as a major economic and cultural center under the sovereignty of Ur. The Eanna District was restored as part of an ambitious building program, which included a new temple for Inanna. This temple included a ziggurat, the 'House of the Universe' to the northeast of the Uruk period Eanna ruins. The ziggurat is also cited as Ur-Nammu Ziggurat for its builder Ur-Nammu. Following the collapse of Ur (c 2000 BC), Uruk went into a steep decline until about 850 BC when the Neo-Assyrian Empire annexed it as a provincial capital. Under the Neo-Assyrians and Neo-Babylonians, Uruk regained much of its former glory. By 250 BC, a new temple complex the 'Head Temple' (Akkadian: Bīt Reš) was added to northeast of the Uruk period Anu district. The Bīt Reš along with the Esagila was one of the two main centers of Neo-Babylonian astronomy. All of the temples and canals were restored again under Nabopolassar. During this era, Uruk was divided into five main districts: the Adad Temple, Royal Orchard, Ištar Gate, Lugalirra Temple, and Šamaš Gate districts.
Uruk, now known as Orchoë to the Greeks, continued to thrive under the Seleucid Empire. During this period, Uruk was a city of 300 hectares. In 200 BC, the 'Great Sanctuary' (Sumerian: eš-gal) of Ishtar was added between the Anu and Eanna districts. When the Seleucids lost Mesopotamia to the Parthians in 141 BC, Uruk again entered a period of decline from which it never recovered. The decline of Uruk may have been in part caused by a shift in the Euphrates River. By 300 AD, Uruk was mostly abandoned, and by c 700 AD it was completely abandoned.
Uruk and Gilgamesh
The semi-mythical king Gilgamesh, according to the chronology presented in the Sumerian king list, ruled Uruk in the 27th century BCE. The city lost its prime importance around 2000 BCE in the context of the struggle of Babylonia with Elam, but it remained inhabited throughout the Seleucid and Parthian periods, until it was finally abandonded during the Sassanid period shortly before the Islamic conquest of Mesopotamia.
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c. 5000 BCEFounding of Uruk.