The History of Ancient Sumeria
Part 2 | <--
Inscriptions have been found bearing some early names from the King List. The first name on the List whose historical existence is attested archaeologically is that of Enmebaragesi of Kish, said to have conquered Elam and built the temple of Enlil in Nippur. His successor, Agga, is said to have fought with Gilgamesh of Uruk.
Another name from the King List, Mesannepada of Ur seems to have succeeded his father, Meskalamdug. Mesannepada also defeated Uruk and Kish, thereafter calling himself by the title "King of Kish".
Some of the earliest monuments from Lagash mention a certain Mesilim, king of Kish, who arbitrated a border dispute between Lugal-shag-engur, high priest of Lagash, and the high priest of a neighbouring town, Umma.
Empire of Lugal-anne-mundu of Adab
Following this period, the entire region of Mesopotamia seems to have come under the sway of a Sumerian conqueror from Adab, Lugal-anne-mundu. According to inscriptions, he ruled from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, and up to the Zagros Mountains, including Elam. However, his empire fell apart with his death.
Dynasty of Lagash
At a later date, the high priests of Lagash made themselves kings, and a dynasty was founded there by Ur-Nina. In the ruins of a building, attached by him to the temple of Nina, terra cotta bas reliefs of the king and his sons have been found, as well as lions' heads in onyx, that remind one of Egyptian work and onyx plates. These were "booty" dedicated to the goddess Bau. One inscription states that ships of Dilmun (Bahrain) brought him wood as tribute from foreign lands.
Eannatum, grandson of Ur-Nina, made himself master of the whole of the district of Sumer, together with the cities of Uruk (ruled by Enshakushanna, of the King List), Ur, Nippur, Akshak, and Larsa. He also annexed the kingdom of Kish; however, it recovered its independence after his death. Umma was made tributary - a certain amount of grain being levied upon each person in it, that had to be paid into the treasury of the goddess Nina and the god Ingurisa.
The so-called "Stele of the Vultures," now in the Louvre, was erected as a monument of the victory of Eannatum of Lagash over Enakalle of Umma. On this, various incidents in the war are represented. In one scene, the king stands in his chariot with a curved weapon in his right hand, formed of three bars of metal bound together by rings, while his kilted followers, with helmets on their heads and lances in their hands, march behind him.
Eannatum's campaigns extended beyond the confines of Sumer. He overran a part of Elam, took the city of Az on the Persian Gulf, and exacted tribute as far as Mari; however many of the realms he conquered were often in revolt. During his reign, temples and palaces were repaired or erected at Lagash and elsewhere; the town of Nina --that probably gave its name to the later Niniveh-- was rebuilt, and canals and reservoirs were excavated.
He was succeeded by his brother, En-anna-tum I. During his rule, Umma once more asserted independence under Ur-Lumma, who attacked Lagash unsuccessfully. Ur-Lumma was replaced by a priest-king, Illi, who also attacked Lagash.
His son and successor Entemena restored the prestige of Lagash. Illi of Umma was subdued, with the help of his ally Lugal-kinishe-dudu of Uruk, successor to Enshakushanna and also on the king-list. This Lugal-kinishe-dudu seems to have been the predominant figure at the time, since he also claimed to rule Kish and Ur.
A tripod of silver dedicated by Entemena to his god is now in the Louvre. A frieze of lions devouring ibexes and deer, incised with great artistic skill, runs round the neck, while the eagle crest of Lagash adorns the globular part. The vase is a proof of the high degree of excellence to which the goldsmith's art had already attained. A vase of calcite, also dedicated by Entemena, has been found at Nippur.
After Entemena, a series of weak, corrupt priest-kings is attested for Lagash. The last of these, Urukagina, was known for his judicial, social, and economic reforms, and his may well be the first legal code known to history.
Empire of Lugal-zage-si of Umma
Urukagina was overthrown and his city Lagash captured by Lugal-Zage-Si, the high priest of Umma. Lugal-zage-si also took Uruk and Ur, and made Uruk his capital. In a long inscription that he caused to be engraved on hundreds of stone vases dedicated to En-lil of Nippur, he boasts that his kingdom extended "from the Lower Sea (Persian Gulf), along the Tigris and Euphrates, to the Upper Sea" or Mediterranean. His empire was finally overthrown by Sargon of Akkad, who founded the first Semitic Empire.
"Sumerian Renaissance" (3rd Dynasty of Ur)
Following the fall of Sargon's Empire to the Gutians, a brief "dark ages" ensued; however one prominent Sumerian ruler of this time was Gudea of Lagash. The Gutians were finally driven out by the Sumerians under Urukhegal of Uruk, who was in turn defeated by Ur-Nammu of Ur, who founded what is known as the 3rd dynasty of Ur. Although the Sumerian language ("Emegir") was again made official, the Sumerian identity was already in decline, as the population continually became more and more Semiticised.
After this dynasty was destroyed by the Elamites, a fierce rivalry developed between the city-states of Larsa, that was under more Elamite than Sumerian influence, and Isin, that was more Amorite (as the Semitic speakers had come to be called).
The Semites ended up prevailing in Mesopotamia by the time of Hammurabi of Babylon, who founded the Babylonian Empire, and the language and name of Sumer gradually passed into the realm of antiquarian scholars (although their influence on Babylonia and all subsequent cultures was indeed great). A few historians assert that some Sumerians managed preserve their identity in a sense, by forming the Magi, or hereditary priestly caste, noted among the later Medes.
Also see: Earth Chronicles | Planet Nibiru