The 3rd Dynasty
of Ur
(2112-2004 BC)
The Third Dynasty of Ur refers simultaneously to a Sumerian ruling dynasty based in the city of Ur and a short-lived territorial-political state that some historians regard as a nascent empire. The Third Dynasty of Ur is commonly abbreviated as Ur III by historians of the period. The dynasty is also known as the Sumerian Renaissance or the Ur III Empire.

The Third Dynasty of Ur came to preeminent power in Mesopotamia after several centuries of Akkadian and Gutian kings. It controlled the cities of Isin, Larsa and Eshnunna and extended as far north as the Jezira.

The Third Dynasty of Ur arose soon after the fall of the Akkad Dynasty. The period between the last king of the Akkad Dynasty, Shar-kali-sharri, and the first king of Ur III, Ur-Nammu, is not well documented, but most Assyriologists posit that there was a power struggle among the most powerful city-states. Even the precise events surrounding the rise of Ur III are unclear. There are several theories.

One theory is that Ur-Nammu (originally a general) founded the dynasty. In this line of thinking, he had supplanted the king of Uruk, Utu-khegal (sometimes called Utu-hegal), who himself had unseated the Gutian king Tirigan. The Sumerian king list tells us that Utu-hegal reigned for seven years, although the list itself is not to be taken literally as a historical source. This has been the most traditional way of thinking about the rise of Ur III, but other archaeological and documentary evidence has been found that sheds some new light on the situation.

In another theory that is gaining prominence, Utu-hegal ruled Uruk while Ur-Nammu was his governor. There are two stelae discovered in Ur that include this detail in an inscription about Ur-Nammu's life. Harkening back to the first theory, some scholars theorize that Ur-Nammu led a revolt against Utu-hegal, deposed him, and gained control of the region through force.

Another theory, however, is that Ur-Nammu was a close relative to Utu-hegal, and the latter had asked the former to rule over the city of Ur in his name. After four years of ruling in Ur, Ur-Nammu rose to prominence as a warrior-king when he crushed the ruler of Lagash in battle, killing the king himself. After this battle, Ur-Nammu seems to have earned the title 'king of Sumer and Agade.'

The details of how the kingdom switched hands are unclear, but some scholars oppose the idea that Ur-Nammu staged a hostile takeover. For one thing, Ur and Uruk continued to foster, seemingly uninterrupted, a close relationship. Also, Mesopotamian kings tended to disparage publicly any rulers they were able to defeat, but no such evidence exists to show that Ur-Nammu fought against Utu-hegal. Assyriologists are always incorporating new evidence, and it is likely that new details will be found in the future.

Assyriologists employ many complicated methods for establishing the most precise dates possible for this period, but controversy still exists. Generally, scholars use either the conventional or the low chronologies. They are as follows:

Utu-hegal: 2119-2113
Ur-Nammu: 2212-c. 2095
Shulgi: 2094-2047
Amar-Sin: 2046-2037
Shu-Sin: 2037-2027
Ibbi-Sin: 2026-2004?

Utu-hegal: 2055-2048
Ur-Nammu: 2047-2030
Shulgi: 2029-1982
Amar-Sin: 1981-1973
Shu-Sin: 1972-1964
Ibbi-Sin: 1963-1940
With the fall of the Ur III Dynasty after to an Elamite invasion in 2004 BC, Babylonia fell under foreign (Amorite) influence.

An early code of law
One salient feature of Ur III is its establishment of one of the earliest known law-codes. It is quite similar to the famous codex of Hammurabi, resembling its prologue and bodily structure. Extant copies, written in Old Babylonian, exist from Nippur, Sippar, and also Ur itself. The author is still somewhat under dispute, but in general scholars attribute it to Shulgi.

Many significant changes occurred in the Ur III empire under Shulgi's reign. He took steps to centralize and standardize the procedures of the empire. He is credited with standardizing administrative processes, archival documentation, the tax system, and the national calendar. He established a standing army of Ur. Shulgi was deified during his lifetime, an honor usually reserved for dead kings.

The prologue to the law-code, written in the first person, established Shulgi as the beacon of justice for his land, a role that previous kings normally did not play. He claims to want justice for all, including traditionally unfortunate groups in the kingdom like the widower or the orphan.

The law-code itself is probably more of a symbol than a set of actual prescriptions of law. More legal disputes were dealt with locally by government officials called mayors, although their decision could be appealed and eventually overthrown by the provincial governor. Sometimes legal disputes were publicly aired with witnesses present at a place like the town square or in front of the temple. However, the image of the king as the supreme judge of the land took hold, and this image appears in many literary works and poems. Citizens sometimes wrote letters of prayer to the king, either present or past

Even though this period is referred to as the Sumerian Renaissance, this does not imply that the Ur III kings ignored their Akkadian predecessors in favor of Sumerian culture. Rather, this period witnessed a revival of Sumerian language and literature even while the Ur III kings emphasized their ties to the Akkad Dynasty as well. Sumerian dominated the cultural sphere, while signs of the spread of Akkadian could be seen elsewhere. Virtually all of the names of members of the royal family are Akkadian, and new towns that arose in this period were virtually all given Akkadian names.

The Ur III kings oversaw many substantial state-run projects, including intricate irrigation systems and centralization of agriculture. An enormous labor force was amassed to work in agriculture, particularly in irrigation, harvesting, and sowing.

Textiles were a particularly important industry in Ur during this time. The textile industry was run by the state. Men, women, and children alike were employed to produce wool and linen clothing. The detailed documents from the administration of this period exhibit a startling amount of centralization; some scholars have gone so far as to say no other period in Mesopotamian history reached the same level.

Trading was another huge industry. The state employed independent merchants to run such commercial activities through a barter system. A standard system of weights was established to aid this process. Coins made of copper, bronze, gold, or silver were produced in certain, pre-set weights so merchants could easily discern values.

Political organization
The land ruled by the Ur III kings was divided up into provinces that were each run by a governor (called an ensi). In certain tumultuous regions, military commanders assumed more power in governing.

Each province contained a redistribution center where provincial taxes would all go to be shipped to the capital. Taxes could be payable in various forms, from crops to livestock to land. The government would then apportion out goods as needed, including giving food rations to the needy and funding temples.

Social system
This is an area where scholars have many different views. It had long been posited that the common laborer was nothing more than a serf, but new analysis and documents reveal a possible different picture. Gangs of laborers can be divided into various groups.

Certain groups indeed seem to work under compulsion. Others work in order to keep property or get rations from the state. Still other laborers were free men and women for whom social mobility was a possibility. Many families travelled together in search of labor. Such laborers could amass private property and even be promoted to higher positions. This is quite a different picture of a laborer's life than the previous belief that they were afforded no way to move out of the social group they were born into.

Slaves also made up a crucial group of labor for the state. One scholar estimates that 2/5 of chattel slaves mentioned in documents were not born slaves but became slaves due to accumulating debt, being sold by family members, or other reasons. However, one surprising feature of this period is that slaves seem to have been able to accumulate some assets and even property during their lifetimes such that they could buy their freedom. Extant documents give details about specific deals for slaves' freedoms negotiated with slaveowners.

Sumerian texts were mass produced in the Ur III period; however, the word 'revival' to describe this period is misleading because archaeological evidence does not offer evidence of a previous period of decline. Instead, Sumerian began to take on a different form. As the Semitic Akkadian language became the common spoken language, Sumerian continued to dominate literature and also administrative documents. Government officials learned to write at special schools that used only Sumerian literature.

Some scholars believe that the Uruk epic of Gilgamesh was written down during this period into its classic Sumerian form. The Ur III Dynasty attempted to establish ties to the early kings of Uruk by claiming to be their familial relations.

For example, the Ur III kings often claimed Gilgamesh's divine parents, Ninsun and Lugalbanda, as their own, probably to evoke a comparison to the epic hero.

Another text from this period, known as "The Death of Urnammu," contains an underworld scene in which Ur-Nammu showers "his brother Gilgamesh" with gifts.

Kings of Ur

(17) 2112-2095
(r-näm´) (KEY) , fl. 2060 B.C., king of the ancient city of Ur, sometimes called Zur-Nammu or Ur-Engur. He founded a new Sumerian dynasty, the third dynasty of Ur, that lasted a century. Ur-Nammu was the promulgator of the oldest code of law yet known, older by about three centuries than the code of Hammurabi. It consists of a prologue and seven laws; the prologue describes Ur-Nammu as a divinely appointed king who established justice throughout the land. This code is of great importance to the study of biblical law, which it predates by about five centuries. The two most famous monuments of Ur-Nammu’s reign are the great ziggurat (temple) at Ur and his stele, of which fragments remain.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright © 2001-05 Columbia University Press.

The ziggurat (and temple?) of Ur-Nammu

(47) 2094-2047
Shulgi of Urim is the second king of the "Sumerian Renaissance". He reigned for 48 years, dated to 2094 BC–2047 BC short chronology (also tentatively dated to 2161 BC–2113 BC on the basis of a solar eclipse). Shulgi is best known for his extensive revision of the scribal school's curriculum. Although it is unclear how much he actually wrote, there are numerous praise poems written by and directed towards this ruler.

Shulgi was the son of Ur-Nammu king of Ur. He claimed himself a God, and boasted about his ability to maintain high speeds while running long distances. For example he claimed he once ran from Ur to Nippur in 2 hours, a distance of not less than 100 miles. He was most probably a demigod like Heracles or Gilgamesh. Kramer speaks of him as "The first long distance runner champion".

It should come as no surprise the fact that Shulgi loved roads. He spent a great deal of time and resources in expanding, maintaining, and even making them more friendly to the traveler, this last he accomplished by building rest houses along the road, so that the traveler could find a place where he could rest and drink fresh water or spend a night. For this last feat Samuel Noah Kramer calls him the builder of the First Inn.


Shulgi -2100-2000BC- son of Urnammu, He is an important king known from odes in later texts. He was the Maecenas (patron of arts) of the Sumerian language and promoted the canonization of Sumerian literature.

King Shulgi:

  1. proclaimed himself a god
  2. boasted that he was one of the few kings who went to school to become a scribe.
    At the schools that taught this difficult skill, students also learned how to debate in public and practiced the refined art of insulting opponents before refuting their arguments.
    "He is spawn of a dog, seed of a wolf, a helpless hyena's whelp, and an addlepated mountain monkey whose reasoning is nonsensical!" begins one such preamble.
  3. claimed that he once ran 200 miles during a fierce hailstorm..(which he may have done)
  4. Who once wrote of himself "I am a powerful man who rejoices in his loins!"

He had his poets and scribes publicize all sorts of stories about his prowess: he had complete mastery of every weapon of war, could capture gazelles on the run, slay lions unaided, and play every known musical instrument.

(9) 2046-2037
Amar-Sin (2046-2037)-Son of Shulgi. He waged numerous campaigns against the Amorites. His time was divided between building projects and wars in Assyria against the Hurrians. He may have lost the Syrian and Elamite tributaries. He had himself deified and called the "God who gives life to the Country" and the "Sun-God [i.e. judge] of the Land". He died of an infection, which is ironic, since illness was seen as a sign of the displeasure of the gods.

(9) 2037-2027
Shu-Sin (2037-2027)-Brother of Amar-Sin. He also had himself deified. More wars were fought with the Amorites. He lost Assyria and erected a huge wall between the Tigris and the Euphrates a little north of Babylon in order to help contain the Amorites. The wall was 270 km long and breached the banks of both rivers. He also campaigned in the Zagros and defeated a coalition of Iranian tribes. He had extensive trade relations with the Indus Valley civilization.

(24) 2026-2004?
Ibbi-Sin (2026-2004)-Son of Shu-Sin. The last king of Ur. New attacks by Elamites and Amorites forced the erection of new walls around Ur and Nippur. His situation was insecure and even pathetic throughout much of his reign. The realm began to disintegrate almost immediately. Much of the time he was confined to Ur itself. Eshnunna broke away in 2028 and Elam the next year. The Ensis of most of his cities deserted him and fended for themselves against the Amorites who were ravaging Sumer. He put a servant, Ishbi-Erra, in charge of Nippur and Isin. Ishbi-Erra in turn extended his sway along the rivers from Hamazi to the Persian Gulf. He took prisoner Ibbi- Sin's Ensis and installed his own. He did all of this while Ibbi-Sin was still on the throne. Severe famine and economic collapse ensued. Finally the Elamites sacked Ur, taking him prisoner, and ending the Empire. He died in Elam.

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