Uruk

   An important Sumerian city that seems to have been the first large urban center in Mesopotamia and the world. Uruk (modern Tell al-Warka), from whose name the modern name Iraq mayhavederived, lies within the city limits of Warka, an Iraqi city situated some 140 miles (225 km) southeast of modern Baghdad. Warka is the Arabic name for the site; the Sumerian name for Uruk was Unug, and in the Old Testament it is called Erech.
   According to legend, Uruk was established by a king named Meskiaggasher in the dim past. Evidence uncovered by archaeologists suggests that the site was occupied by about 5000 b.c., near the beginning of the Ubaidian period. The town's great heyday, however, came later, in the fourth millennium b.c., when it underwent spectacular growth. For a while it was the world's only and largest city, covering an area of up to 2 square miles (5.2 sq. km). A number of temples were erected during this period, including the Eanna (House of An), dedicated to Inanna, goddess of love and sexual passion. It also appears that Uruk's scribes invented the art of writing using cuneiform symbols etched onto clay tablets. In the early third millennium b.c., according to the Sumerian King List, a king named Gilgamesh ruled Uruk. Assuming he was a real person, he is credited with extending and finishing the city's outer defensive wall, which reached 6 miles (10 km) in circumference. Gilgamesh, or at least an exaggerated, romanticized memory of him, also later became the subject of the most famous piece of ancient Mesopotamian literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh.
   Later in the same millennium, King Lugalzagesi of Umma captured Uruk. But he was soon defeated by the great imperialist Sargon of Akkad, and Uruk became part of the Akkadian Empire. The Akkadians continued to construct temples in Uruk, as did the rulers of the empire that superceded the Akkadian realm, the Third Dynasty of Ur. After the latter's fall in about 2004 b.c., Uruk went into decline. It revived somewhat in the first millennium b.c. and remained prosperous during the Persian, Seleucid, Parthian, and Sassanian periods that followed. Finally, during the early years of the Muslim period, which beganinthe a.d. 630s, Uruk was abandoned.
   The first modern investigation of Uruk began in 1912, when a German team led by Julius Jordan arrived on the site. Work was suspended during World War I, but it resumed in 1928. Excavations, mostly by other German groups, have been continuous almost ever since. Still, only about one-fifth of the city's huge expanse has been explored in depth to date.
   Uruk is also the name given by modern scholars to the Mesopotamian historical period following the Ubaidian period; various estimates for the span of the Uruk period, inwhichUrukbecameatruecity, include circa 4000 to 3200 b.c. and circa 3700 to 3100 b.c. Scholars further break down the period into Early, Middle, and Late phases, based on pottery and other artifacts uncovered in the eighteen layers of human habitation found in Uruk.

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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