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Coordinates: 30°57′45″N 46°06′11″E / 30.9625°N 46.10306°E / 30.9625; 46.10306

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Ur (Sumerian: Urim [1], written URIM2KI ��� or URIM5KI ��� [2] (Assyrian:ܘ݂ܪ ) was a city in ancient Sumer, located at the site of modern Tell el-Mukayyar in Iraq's Dhi Qar Governorate.[3] Once a coastal city near the mouth of the then Euphrates river on the Persian Gulf, Ur is now well inland, south of the Euphrates on its right bank, 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) from Nasiriyah, Iraq. It is close to the site of ancient Eridu. Ur was a Sumerian city-state.

The city's patron deity was Nanna, the Sumerian moon god, and the name of the city is in origin derived from the god's name, URIM2KI being the classical Sumerian spelling of LAK-32.UNUGKI, literally "the abode (UNUG) of Nanna (LAK-32)".[4]

The site is marked by the ruins of the Great Ziggurat of Ur, which contained the shrine of Nanna, excavated in the 1930s. The temple was built in the 21st century BC (short chronology), during the reign of Ur-Nammu and was reconstructed in the 6th century BC by Nabonidus.


Early history

Ur was inhabited in the earliest stage of village settlement in the southern part of Mesopotamia, the Ubaid period. However, it later appears to have been abandoned for a time. Scholars believe that, as the climate changed from relatively damp to drought in the early 3rd millennium BC, the small farming villages of the Ubaid culture consolidated into larger settlements, arising from the need for large-scale, centralized irrigation works to survive the dry spells. Ur became one such center, and by around 2600 BC, in the Sumerian Early Dynastic Period III, the city was again thriving. Ur by this time was considered sacred to the god called Nanna (Sumerian) or Sin (Akkadian).[5]

Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium BC

The location of Ur was favourable for trade, by both sea and land routes, into Arabia. Many elaborate tombs, including that of Queen Puabi,[6] were constructed. In this cemetery were also found artifacts bearing the names of kings Meskalamdug and Akalamdug.

Eventually, the kings of Ur became the effective rulers of Sumer, in the first dynasty of Ur established by the king Mesannepada (or Mesanepada, Mes-Anni-Padda), who is on the king list and is named as a son of Meskalamdug on one artifact.

Middle Bronze Age

Empire of the Third Dynasty of Ur

The first dynasty was ended by an attack of Sargon of Akkad around 2340 BC. Not much is known about the following second dynasty, when the city was in eclipse.

The third dynasty was established when the king Ur-Nammu (or Urnammu) came to power, ruling between ca. 2047 BC and 2030 BC. During his rule, temples, including the ziggurat, were built, and agriculture was improved through irrigation. His code of laws, the Code of Ur-Nammu (a fragment was identified in Istanbul in 1952) is one of the oldest such documents known, preceding the code of Hammurabi by 300 years. He and his successor Shulgi were both deified during their reigns, and after his death he continued as a hero-figure: one of the surviving works of Sumerian literature describes the death of Ur-Nammu and his journey to the underworld. [7]

The Ur empire continued through the reigns of three more kings, Amar-Sin, Shu-Sin, and Ibbi-Sin. It fell around 1940 BC to the Elamites in the 24th regnal year of Ibbi-Sin, an event commemorated by the Lament for Ur. [8] [9]

According to one estimate, Ur was the largest city in the world from c. 2030 to 1980 BC. Its population was approximately 65,000.[10]

Iron Age

In the sixth century BC there was new construction in Ur under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. The last Babylonian king, Nabonidus, improved the ziggurat. However the city started to decline from around 550 BC and was no longer inhabited after about 500 BC, perhaps owing to drought, changing river patterns, and the silting of the outlet to the Persian Gulf.

Biblical Ur

Ur is considered by many to be the city of Ur Kasdim mentioned in the Book of Genesis ( Biblical Hebrew אוּר) as the birthplace of the patriarch Abram (Abraham; Arabic:Ibrahim).

Ur is mentioned four times in the Tanakh or Old Testament, with the distinction "of the Kasdim/Kasdin"—traditionally rendered in English as "Ur of the Chaldees". The Chaldeans were already settled in the vicinity by around 850 BC. The name is found in Genesis 11:28, Genesis 11:31, and Genesis 15:7. In Nehemiah 9:7, a single passage mentioning Ur is a paraphrase of Genesis. (Nehemiah 9:7)

The Book of Jubilees states that Ur was founded in 1688 Anno Mundi (year of the world) by 'Ur son of Kesed, presumably the offspring of Arphaxad, adding that in this same year wars began on Earth.

"And 'Ur, the son of Kesed, built the city of 'Ara of the Chaldees, and called its name after his own name and the name of his father." (i.e., Ur Kesdim) (Jubilees 11:3)

Islamic Ur

The prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) was thrown into the fire here. This fire of Nimrod was turned into water and it is still there to be seen today.[where?] While the Qur'an does not mention the king's name, Muslim commentators have assigned Nimrod as the king based on Jewish sources.[11]


Archeological excavations at Tell el-Mukayyar, Iraq

In the 1625, the site was visited by Pietro della Valle, who recorded the presence of ancient bricks stamped with strange symbols, cemented together with bitumen, as well as inscribed pieces of black marble that appeared to be seals.

The site was first excavated in 1853 and 1854 by John George Taylor, British vice-counsel at Basra from 1851-1859. [12] [13] [14] He worked on behalf of the British Museum. Taylor found clay cylinders in the four corners of the top stage of the ziggurat which bore an inscription of Nabonidus (Nabuna`id), the last king of Babylon (539 BC), closing with a prayer for his son Belshar-uzur (Bel-ŝarra-Uzur), the Belshazzar of the Book of Daniel. Evidence was found of prior restorations of the ziggurat by Ishme-Dagan of Isin and Shu-Sin of Ur, and by Kurigalzu, a Kassite king of Babylon in the fourteenth century BCE. Nebuchadnezzar also claims to have rebuilt the temple. Taylor further excavated an interesting Babylonian building, not far from the temple, part of an ancient Babylonian necropolis. All about the city he found abundant remains of burials of later periods. Apparently, in later times, owing to its sanctity, Ur became a favorite place of sepulchres, so that even after it had ceased to be inhabited, it continued to be used as a necropolis.

After Taylor's time the site was visited by numerous travelers, almost all of whom have found ancient Babylonian remains, inscribed stones and the like, lying upon the surface. The site was considered rich in remains, and relatively easy to explore. After some soundings were made in 1918 by Reginald Campbell Thompson, H. R. Hill worked the site for one season for the British Museum in 1919, laying the groundwork for more extensive efforts to follow. [15] [16]

Excavations from 1922 to 1934 were funded by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania and led by the archaeologist Sir Charles Leonard Woolley. [17] [18] [19] A total of about 1,850 burials were uncovered, including 16 that were described as "royal tombs" containing many valuable artifacts, including the Standard of Ur. Most of the royal tombs were dated to about 2600 BC. The finds included the unlooted tomb of a queen thought to be Queen Puabi[6]—the name is known from a cylinder seal found in the tomb, although there were two other different and unnamed seals found in the tomb. Many other people had been buried with her, in a form of human sacrifice. Near the ziggurat were uncovered the temple E-nun-mah and buildings E-dub-lal-mah (built for a king), E-gi-par (residence of the high priestess) and E-hur-sag (a temple building). Outside the temple area, many houses used in everyday life were found. Excavations were also made below the royal tombs layer: a 3.5-metre (11 ft)-thick layer of alluvial clay covered the remains of earlier habitation, including pottery from the Ubaid period, the first stage of settlement in southern Mesopotamia. Woolley later wrote many articles and books about the discoveries.[20]

Most of the treasures excavated at Ur are in the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

In 2009, an agreement was reached for a joint University of Pennsylvania and Iraqi team to resume archaeological work at the site of Ur. [21]

Archaeological remains

File:UR 17 01 2004 003.jpg

The Great Ziggurat of Ur

File:UR 17 01 2004 004.jpg

The Royal Tombs of UrTemplate:Ffdc

Though some of the areas that were cleared during modern excavations have sanded over again, the Great Ziggurat is fully cleared and stands as the best-preserved and only major structure on the site. The top is covered with debris and is at times a confusing mix of loose stones, broken pottery and partial reconstruction.

The famous Royal tombs, also called the Neo-Sumerian Mausolea, located about 250 metres (820 ft) south-east of the Great Ziggurat in the corner of the wall that surrounds the city, are nearly totally cleared. Parts of the tomb area appear to be in need of structural consolidation or stabilization.

There are cuneiform (Sumerian writing) on many walls, some entirely covered in script stamped into the mud-bricks. The text is sometimes difficult to read, but it covers most surfaces.

Modern graffiti has also found its way to the graves, usually in the form of names made with coloured pens (sometimes they are carved). The Great Ziggurat itself has far more graffiti, mostly lightly carved into the bricks.

The graves are completely empty. A small number of the tombs are accessible. Most of them have been cordoned off.

The whole site is covered with pottery debris, to the extent that it is virtually impossible to set foot anywhere without stepping on some. Some have colours and paintings on them. Some of the "mountains" of broken pottery are debris that has been removed from excavations.

Pottery debris and human remains form many of the walls of the royal tombs area. It can only be speculated whether this is of ancient making or modern restoration, but it is a fact that they are, literally, filled up with pottery debris.

In May 2009, the US Army returned the Ur site to the Iraqi authorities, who hope to develop it as a tourist destination. [22]

See also

  • Biblical archaeology
  • Cities of the ancient Near East
  • Great Ziggurat of Ur
  • History of Iraq
  • History of Sumer
  • Lyres of Ur
  • Royal Game of Ur
  • Short chronology timeline
  • Standard of Ur


  1. S. M. Kramer, The Sumerians, Their History, Culture, and Character, University of Chicago Press, 1963, pages 28 and 298
  2. The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature
  3. Tell el-Mukayyar– in Arabic Tell means "mound" or "hill" and Mukayyar means "built of bitumen". Mukayyar is variously transcribed as Mugheir, Mughair, Moghair, Muqayyar etc.
  4. Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1997, ISBN 9783110148091, p.360
  5. Iroku, Osita; "A Day in the Life of God"; 2008; published by the Enlil Institute
  6. 6.0 6.1 Queen Puabi is also written Pu-Abi and formerly transcribed as Shub-ab.
  7. The Ancient Near East: C.3000-330 B.C. By Amélie Kuhrt, Routledge, 1995, ISBN 0415167620
  8. Ur III Period (2112-2004 BC) by Douglas Frayne, University of Toronto Press, 1997, ISBN 0802041981
  9. The ruling family of Ur III Umma. A Prosopographical Analysis of an Elite Family in Southern Iraq 4000 Years ago, J.L. Dahl, UCLA dissertation, 2003
  10. Largest Cities Through History
  11. Lore of Light Vol 1 - Haji Amina Adil(KS)
  12. J. E. Taylor, Notes on the Ruins of Muqeyer, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 15, pp. 260-276, 1855
  13. JE Taylor, Notes on Abu Shahrein and Tel-el-Lahm, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 15 , pp. 404-415, 1855. In the relevant publications he is erroneously listed as J. E. Taylor.
  14. E. Sollberger, Mr. Taylor in Chaldaea, Anatolian Studies, vol. 22, pp. 129-139 , 1972
  15. H. R. Hall, The Excavations of 1919 at Ur, el-'Obeid, and Eridu, and the History of Early Babylonia ,Man, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 25, pp. 1-7, 1925
  16. H. R. Hall, Ur and Eridu: The British Museum Excavations of 1919, Journal of Egyyptian Archaeology, vol. 9, no. 3/4, pp. 177-195, 1923
  17. Leonard Woolley, Ur: The First Phases, Penguin, 1946
  18. Leonard Woolley, Excavations at Ur: A Record of Twelve Years' Work, Apollo, 1965, ISBN: 0815201109
  19. Leonard Woolley and P. R. S. Moorey, Ur of the Chaldees: A Revised and Updated Edition of Sir Leonard Woolley's Excavations at Ur, Cornell University Press, 1982, ISBN 0801415187
  20. Beck, Roger B.; Linda Black, Larry S. Krieger, Phillip C. Naylor, Dahia Ibo Shabaka, (1999). World History: Patterns of Interaction. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell. ISBN 0-395-87274-X. 
  21. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty - Free Media in Unfree Societies U.S. Archaeologists To Excavate In Iraq
  22. "US returns Ur, birthplace of Abraham, to Iraq". AFP. 2009-05-14. Retrieved 2009-09-12. 


External links

als:Ur ar:أور bn:উর bs:Ur bg:Ур ca:Ur cv:Ур cs:Ur da:Ur (oldtidsby) eo:Ur (urbo) fa:اور gl:Ur ko:우르 hr:Ur ka:ური sw:Ur lt:Ūras hu:Ur mk:Ур (град) ja:ウル no:Ur oc:Ur (vila) pt:Ur ro:Ur ru:Ур simple:Ur sk:Ur sl:Ur sr:Ур sh:Ur fi:Ur sv:Ur, Irak tl:Ur tr:Ur (şehir) uk:Ур ur:اُر zh:乌尔