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Mesopotamia / Cities /
Sumerian: unug
Akkadian: uruk


Uruk, Iraq
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Ziggurat of Uruk

Cylinder seal of Uruk. Between 2800 and 2600 BCE.
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Cylinder seal of Uruk. Between 2800 and 2600 BCE.

Temple structure dating to 5th millennium BCE.
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Temple structure dating to 5th millennium BCE.

Ancient city of Sumer and Babylonia, southern Mesopotamia, on the Shatt an-Nil canal (off the Euphrates river). Its location is midway between modern Nasiriyah and Samawah in southeastern Iraq.
In its time, the course of the Euphrates river ran by Uruk, now this has moved 12 km away.
Uruk is one of the oldest excavated cities in the world. It grew into a city, serving as the economic, political and religious centre of a region with an agriculture with a surplus so large that the peasants and farmers were able to pay for specialized products. This trade was performed in market centres, and the foodstuffs not consumed in the region could be exported to other regions where metals and handicrafts were produced. Hence Uruk was also a centre of trade, well positioned between the Persian Gulf and northern regions of Mesopotamia, Iran and Turkey, and even further away.
Uruk was a major city already in 3300 BCE, covering an area of about 2 km² with perhaps 40,000 inhabitants. At the most the size was about 5.5 km². Uruk comprised two temple precincts devoted to Anu, the sky god and the Inanna-Ishtar ziggurat. The temple area was made up of several large buildings. The structures were simple, but often much decorated with coloured clay cones in the walls.
It is believed that the temple area also served as the political centre of the state where Uruk was the capital. It is believed that Uruk's products included mass-produced pottery, metal objects, carved stone seals, vessels.
Uruk's religious and political bureaucracy was central in the development of cuneiform writing. Thousands of clay tablets have been found at Uruk, going back in time as much 5000 years.
Modern research suggests that Uruk is actually city of Erech.

Around 4000 BCE: First settlements in the region, which slowly grows into a major city of the region.
Around 3700: According to the legend, city walls are erected by the command of King Gilgamesh (see epic of Gilgamesh).
3000: Reign of the famous king, Enmerkar.
Around 2000: The ziggurat of Inanna-Ishtar is built by the command of King Ur-Nammu.

Modern times
1912: Excavations start by German archaeologists.

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By Tore Kjeilen