The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







For uses in the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien's, see Uruk-hai, Erech (Middle-earth).

Uruk (Sumerian Unug, Biblical Erech, Greek OrchoŽ and Arabic Warka), was an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia, situated east of the present bed of the Euphrates, on the line of the ancient Nil canal, in a region of marshes, about 140 miles SSE from Baghdad. The modern name of Iraq is derived from the name Uruk.

It was one of the oldest and most important cities of Babylonia. Its walls were said to have been built by order of Gilgamesh who also constructed, it was said, the famous temple, called Eanna , dedicated to the worship of Inanna, or Ishtar. Its voluminous surviving temple archive, of the Neo-Babylonian period, documents the social function of the temple as a redistribution center. In times of famine, a family might dedicate children to the temple as oblates.

Uruk played a very important part in the political history of the country from an early time, exercising hegemony in Babylonia at a period before the time of Sargon. Later it was prominent in the national struggles of the Babylonians against the Elamite Empire up to 2000 BC, in which it suffered severely; recollections of these conflicts are embodied in the Gilgamesh epic, in the literary and courtly form in which it has come down to us.

Oppenheim states, "In Uruk, in southern Mesopotamia, Sumerian civilization seems to have reached its creative peak. This is pointed out repeatedly in the references to this city in religious and, especially, in literary texts, including those of mythological content; the historical tradition as preserved in the Sumerian king-list confirms it. From Uruk the center of political gravity seems to have moved to Ur."

According to the Sumerian king list, Uruk was founded by Enmerkar, who brought the official kingship with him from the city of Eanna . His father Mesh-ki-ag-gasher had "entered the sea and disappeared". Other historical kings of Uruk include Lugalzagesi of Umma (now Djokha) (who conquered Uruk), and Utuhegal.

Uruk was first excavated by a German team led by Julius Jordan before World War I. This expedition returned in 1928 and made further excavations until 1939, then returned in 1954 under the direction of H. Lenzen and made systematic excavations over the following years. These excavations revealed some early Sumerian documents and a larger cache of legal and scholarly tablets of the Seleucid period, which have been published by Adam Falkenstein and other German epigraphists.

External links and references

  • The History of the Ancient Near East -
  • A. Leo Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia: portrait of a dead civilization.

Last updated: 08-19-2005 02:29:27