Episode 6: Uruk: Mesopotamia’s First Kings and Military
Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization
Dr Amanda H Podany
The world’s first kings appeared in Mesopotamia and Egypt around 3000 BC. It’s possible the two civilizations influenced one another as they engaged in trade in the third and fourth millenium BC.
Prior to kings, priests ran early civilizations owing to their ability to intercede with the gods.
Lugal, the Sumerian word for king, means “big man.” This supports a common historical theory that people chose early kings for their ability to lead their city-states into battle.
The early Mesopotamian kings were usually illiterate. Their main duties involved planning military campaigns, levying taxes, appointing state officials, appeasing the gods, organizing building programs (irrigation schemes, monuments, statues), forging diplomatic alliances and treaties, choosing good marriage alliances for their daughters and preventing usurpers from overthrowing them.
Panody makes the generalization that kings were rarely overthrown, which contradicts the view of anthropologists David Graeber and David Wengrow in The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (see The Dawn of Everything: A New History of So-Called Civilization). They describe, in meticulous detail, how humanity has spent most of 40,000 years (prior to the last 500 years) dismantling hierarchical forms of government. Their book includes evidence from Japan, China, Egypt, Sumer, Assyria and medieval Europe.
Each Mesopotamian king ruled a single city, along with the villages and farmland surrounding it. Despite being divided into numerous city-states, populations across Mesopotamia shared the same culture (similar clothing, lifestyles, tools and spoken and written language). It was during this period new scribes began using written language to immortalize Mesopotamian kings, as well as keeping accounts.
Panody focuses on King Ur-Naske, who founded the dynasty that ruled Lagash in southern Mesoptomania (Sumer). The latter was located on the trade route to Susa in the East. Lash traded with Dilmun in Bahrain, which, in turn, trade with the Indus Valley civilization. King Ur-Naske fought and defeated the kings of Ur and Umma (over a longstanding boundary dispute). His dynasty, which controlled Lagash for 200 years drew up one of the earliest peace treaties (between Lagash and Uruk).
The science of diplomacy arose during this period, as evidenced by clay tablets recording treaties between rival cities. Most provided for 1) a regular exchange of messengers, letters and gifts of luxury goods 2) a commitment to abide by peace treaties 3) a commitment to solidify alliances via intermarriage.
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