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Uruk - A Major Mesopotamian Urban Area


Statuette of a bearded man, maybe the king-priest. Limestone, Uruk period, c. 3300 B.C. Mesopotamia

Statuette of a bearded man, c. 3300 B.C., Mesopotamia.

PD Marie-Lan Nguyen Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Ancient Near East > Mesopotamia > Uruk

Uruk was a major Mesopotamian city from a very early date -- in the fifth millennium B.C. -- during the Ubaid period (5500-4000 B.C.). Uruk was at one time probably the largest city in the world and remained an important city from the time of the Akkadians through the Seleucids (c. 2300 - c. 63 B.C.). It had the earliest known colonial system*, which was used to support commercial expansion in the Zagros Mountains, Syria, and southeastern Anatolia.

Archaeologists began excavating Uruk in the 19th century. In the early 20th century, they found stratified urban centers in southern Mesopotamia dating back to between 4500 and 3750 B.C. Clay tablets from c. 3300 B.C. show early writing at Uruk. In all, there were about 1200 written pre-cuneiform impressed, pictographic signs. They also found late Uruk seals marking property, tablets or signs show plows and, possibly, wheeled vehicles. The legendary king Gilgamesh is said to have built the walls around the city. There were two major (religious) centers:

  • For the sky god An at Kullaba, and
  • For the love and war goddess Inanna, at Eanna, where there is a ziggurat complex.

* "Uruk Colonies and Anatolian Communities: An Interim Report on the 1992-1993 Excavations at Hacinebi, Turkey," by Gil J. Stein et al. American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 100, No. 2 (Apr., 1996), pp. 205-260.

For other references and more information, see Periods of Uruk

Also Known As: Erech (biblically), Unu (Sumerian), Warka (Arabic). Iraq.
Uruk refers to a region, a "city" that is located about 155 miles south of Baghdad, and a period in early Mesopotamian history from c. 4200-3300 B.C. when Mesopotamian city-states emerged.

Assyrian Empire 750-625 B.C. This map shows Uruk and comes from William Shepherd's Historical Atlas. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911.

"Writing Gets a Rewrite," by Andrew Lawler; Science, New Series, Vol. 292, No. 5526 (Jun. 29, 2001), pp. 2418-2420

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