History of Uruk


Uruk was an ancient city located in present day Iraq situated roughly 250 km south of Baghdad, on an ancient branch of the Euphrates River, known in the Bible as Erech (now Warka). Uruk was the first major city in Sumer built in the 5th century BC, and is considered one of the largest Sumerian settlements and most important religious centers in Mesopotamia. It was continuously inhabited from about 5000 BC up to the 5th century AD.

Gilgamesh, the King of the city's first dynasty and hero of the famous epic named after him, built the walls of the city 4700 years ago as Cuneiform texts indicates, and the Eanna (house of An) temple complex there, dedicated to the goddess Inanna, or Ishtar (goddess of love, procreation, and war), which is symbolized by the star Venus. Her worship went to the Greeks and Romans under the name of Aphrodite or Venus, who had exactly the same attributes as Ishtar.

Uruk was an important city on two scores: religion and science, which is confirmed by the thousands of clay tablets dug up in it that goes back to the beginnings of writing about 5000 years ago - in the invention of which Uruk played a major role. Excavations have revealed a series of very important structures and deposits of the 4th millennium BC and the site has given its name to the period that succeeded the "Ubaid" and proceeded the "Jemdet Nasr" periods of ancient Mesopotamia.

The Uruk period saw the emergence of urban life in Mesopotamia and led to the full civilization of the Early Dynastic period. It is not always fully realized how unique the site of Uruk was at this time: it was by far the largest settlement, with the most impressive buildings and the earliest evidence of writing.

It would be true to say that Uruk was Mesopotamia's - and the World's - first city. It seems to have started as two separate settlements, Kullaba and Eanna, which coalesced in the Uruk period to form a town covering 80 hectares; at the height of its development in the Early Dynastic period, the city walls were 9.5 km long, enclosing a massive 450 hectares, and may have housed some 50,000 people.

In the heart of the city are two large temple complexes: the Anu (god of the sky) sanctuary, belonging originally to Kullaba, and the Eanna sanctuary, dedicated to Ishtar, known by scholars as the Mosaic Temple of Uruk, which rises to a height of 16 m on a square base measuring 60x60 m. Both complexes have revealed several successive temple-structures of the Uruk period, including the White Temple in the Anu sanctuary and the Limestone and Pillar Temples in the Eanna sanctuary. A characteristic form of decoration involves the use of clay cones with painted tops pressed into the mud plaster facing the buildings - a technique known as clay cone mosaic.

On the northwest side of the Eanna sanctuary is a Ziggurat (an ancient Mesopotamian temple tower consisting of a lofty pyramidal structure built in successive stages with outside staircases and a shrine at the top, where the priests ruled from) laid out by Ur-Nammu of Ur in the Ur III period (late 3rd millennium BC).

Evidence from the deep trench excavated in the Eanna sanctuary has cast much light on the developments of the Uruk period. The most important of these was undoubtedly the development of writing. The earliest Clay Tablets appear in late Uruk levels; they are simple labels and lists with pictographic symbols. Tablets from slightly later levels of the "Jemdet Nasr" phase, show further developments towards the Cuneiform script of the Early Dynastic period.

The city remained important throughout the 3rd millennium BC, but declined in importance during the later part of that period. It remained in occupation throughout the following 2 millennia, down to the Parthian period, but only as a minor center.

Indeed, Uruk played an important role in the mythology of the Mesopotamian civilizations to the end.

The City of Uruk, 3000 B.C. : Short Historical Reference