Episode 11: Ur III, Household Accounts and Zyggurats
Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization
Dr Amanda H Podany
The Third Dynasty of Ur lasted between 2112 and 2004 BC. It’s renowned for the 120,000 written tablets it left behind, shared among 545 contempory museums.
Its residents created dozens of new tablets everyday, recording the receipt and distribution of all economic goods, as well as all worker payments and taxes paid. Types of workers included soldiers, farmers, artisans, administrators, scribes and priests/priestesses. Ur III employed many immigrant workers, including Amarites, Martu and Indus Valley natives,
King Ur-Namma built the first large central government after the fall of the Arkaddian Empire. By 2100 BC, military rulers were already using the phony language of “liberating” the kingdoms they conquered. They portrayed themselves as “kind shepherds” whose main motivation was to protect conquered peoples from other powerful institutions that might exploit them.
Ur-Namma’s Law Code included specific provisions to protect orphans, widows and the indebted. It also prescribed specific penalties for criminal behavior. Homicide was punished with death, and a man who divorced his first ranking wife was required to pay her 60 shekels of silver. This Law Code was based on legal precedents from well-established law courts in existence for centuries.
During his reign, Ur-Namma also standardized weights and measures, the calendar, the size of bricks and norms of building construction. He also commissioned giant pyramid-shaped temples called zygurrats and massive royal tombs. It’s estimated that 1000 laborers worked for five months to complete the first story of one of Ur-Namma’s zygurrats. Under the Ur III dynasty, temples continued to to farm large plots of land and run community workshops producing leather, wool, and boats.
Mesopotamia was very decentralized during this time. Provincial governors, who lived in smaller palaces, also ran workshops to meet the material needs of their communities. The king allowed generals to run their own armies, rather than the king. Twenty merchants in Umma controlled nearly all the trade. They oversaw the import of copper and gold from Magan (modern day Oman). They also provided credit, especially to farmers, in the form of seed grain or silver.
The Ur III dynasty had political control over Susa (west of the Euprhates in modern day Iran) and princesses of Ur sere sent to marry Elamite princes.
The film can be viewed free with a library card at Kanopy.