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The Ur III kings not only unified much of Mesopotamia under one rule, they instituted a well-organized state and bureaucracy that was emulated by later dynasties. The Ur III kings also introduced trade and diplomatic policies that were influential, utilized agricultural practices that were used for centuries, and provided many of the basic ideas of Mesopotamian religion that were followed until the Hellenistic Period.
===The Sumerians and Ur===
More than a millennia before the Ur III Dynasty was born, the Sumerians began building cities in the region of southern Mesopotamia that would later become known as Sumer. The Sumerians are one of the most enigmatic ethnic groups from the ancient Near East because although their language has been deciphered, it is not a member of any known language family. The Sumerians are not believed to have been Semitic, unlike their many neighbors in Mesopotamia, nor were they believed to be Indo-European, such as the Hittites or later Persians. The enigma of the Sumerians’ origins has led some scholars to believe they migrated to the region, possibly from India or somewhere else to the east. <ref> Ziskind, Jonathan R. “The Sumerian Problem.” <i>History Teacher</i> 5 (1972) p. 41</ref> Although this opinion was once very popular among scholars and still is in some circles, many historians and archaeologists point out that there is no evidence that suggests they migrated to the region and that if they were not truly “indigenous” to Mesopotamia they were at least very ancient. <ref> Kuhrt, Amélie. <i>The Ancient Near East: c. 3000-330 BC.</i> (London: Routledge, 2010), p. 23</ref>
“Uruk was defeated in battle, its kingship was removed to Ur. In Ur, Mes-Anne-pada became king, ruled 80 years; MEs-kiag-Nanna became king, ruled 36 years; [Elulu ruled 25 years; Balulu ruled 36 years. Four kings (thus) ruled it for 177 years. Ur was defeated in battle].” <ref> Pritchard, James B, ed. <i>Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.</i> Third Edition. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992), p. 266</ref>
===The Establishment of the Ur III Dynasty===
[[File: Cylinder_seal_of_Shulgi.jpg|300px|thumbnail|left|Cylinder Seal of King Shulgi (ruled c. 2094-2047 BC)]]
The Ur III Dynasty came to power after the Akkadian Dynasty grew weak and eventually collapsed. Akkad’s collapse ushered in an era of political and social instability in Mesopotamia, but also created opportunities for ambitious dynasts in other cities. Ur-Nammu (reigned c. 2112-2095 BC) was one such ambitious ruler. After consolidating his power base within the city of Ur, Ur-Nammu used his army to bring most of Mesopotamia under the rule of Ur. A cuneiform inscription in the Sumerian language, known as the “Laws of Ur-Nammu,” documents this process, along with a number of laws the king enacted in the conquered territories. The text provides insight not only into how Ur-Nammu conquered Mesopotamia, but more importantly how he and the other Ur III kings viewed their action.
The empire that Ur-Nammu and Shulgi created was quite sophisticated in terms of its bureaucracy and state apparatus. The empire was divided into provinces that were each overseen by a governor known as an <i>ensi</i>. In addition to an ensi, each province also had at least one general, and several, such as the province of Umma, had several generals, which effectively prevented ensis from rebelling. Another important Ur III administrative office was the <i>sukkalmah</i>, whose task it was to represent the interests of the Ur III state away from Ur and who therefore acted as another check on possibly ambitious ensis. <ref> Mieroop, pgs. 77-79</ref>
===Trade and Diplomacy in the Ur III State===
Although the first two Ur III kings established their empire through force, they were not as bellicose as many of the Mesopotamian dynasties that preceded and followed them. The Ur III kings relied on their well-oiled bureaucracy along with considerable long-distance trade and an innovative diplomatic policy to hold power. By the late third millennium BC, Ur came to dominate the textiles and metals trade in Mesopotamia, which the Ur III kings took advantage of through centralization. The Ur III kings would direct trade through policies, but trade itself was carried out by independent caravans and contractors who profited nicely. Ur III trade worked so well that some modern scholars believed that a proto-currency was even developed in Ur at the time. Gold, silver, copper, and bronze coils have been discovered in excavations at Ur in a trade context, which has suggested to some archaeologists that the metals were used as a type of early currency. <ref> Kuhrt, p. 61</ref>
The Ur III Dynasty also influenced later Mesopotamian dynasties in terms of religious texts. Many of the more influential Mesopotamian texts, such as the <i>Epic of Gilgamesh</i> were originally written in Sumerian, probably during the Ur III Dynasty, and then later copied into Akkadian in later dynasties. <ref> Sandars, Nancy <i>The Epic of Gilgamesh.</i> Revised Edition. (London: Penguin, 1972), p. 8</ref> In fact, most of the gods and goddesses of Mesopotamia were based on Sumerian and/or Ur III deities; the later dynasties would often just change their names but the important details remained constant.
Although it is sometimes overlooked, the Ur III Dynasty was one of the most important dynasties to have ruled ancient Mesopotamia. The Ur III kings quickly built an empire on the ruins of the Akkadian Dynasty and in the process built a sophisticated bureaucracy, developed advanced trade and diplomacy, and influenced the religion of later Mesopotamian dynasties. After the Ur III Dynasty collapsed at the hands of the Elamites, the focus of Mesopotamian Civilization moved north to Babylon, but the ideas that were developed in Ur were not forgotten.
[[Category: Ancient History]] [[Category: Ancient Mesopotamian History]] [[Category: Political History]]