Thursday 30 November 2023

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  1. The Amorites II The Ill fated first Babylonian Empire 2 here
  2. Sumer after the Sumerians, the Amorite rulers Sumerians  here
  3. Sumerians 5,the lost years here
  4. The Sumerians 4 The Brutal Akkadians here
  5. The Incredible Sumerians 3 after the flood here
  6. The Incredible Sumerians 2 here
  7. The Incredible Sumerians 1 here
  8. The fall of the Roman Republic 3 (Late Republic) here
  9. The fall of the Roman Republic 2 (middle Republic) here
  10. The Fall of the Roman republic 1 (early republic) here
  11. The last King of Rome and the start of the Republic here
  12. The Kings of Rome, fact or fiction here
  13. Out of Africa 2, Homo Sapiens here
  14. Out of Africa 1, Early evolution of man  here
  15. The missing Neolithic farmers of old Europe here
  16.  The True Dawn of the Neolithic Age here
  17. The Plague a snapshot, 3,000 BC till today here
  18. The Great Plague, a brief scientific background here
  19. Boudica (Boadicea) heroine of the Britons AD 60 here
  20. Armenian Genocide, background  here
  21. Armenia, a land of ancient history and enduring tragedy here
  22. The true Aryans here
  23. Phoenicians, remarkable survivors  here
  24. The Bronze Age Collapse, the greatest disaster to ever visit the ancient world here
  25. The mysterious Philistines and the Sea People  here
  26. The Pelasgoí, the forgotten people of Greece  Pelasgoi 
  27.  The search for Troy   Heinrich Schliemann
  28. The history of Paladins from medieval French literature till today..History of Paladins, 
  29.  Best Kindle Epic Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery deals click here 
  30.  How to get your free book from Smashwords click here  
  31.  Song of Troy: an Epic Sword and Sorcery tale from Ancient times click here

Thursday 13 April 2023

Amorites 2 : The Ill fated first Babylonian Empire

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The Amorites (2 of 2)

The Ill Fated first Babylonian Empire

The Amorites were a rural group originating from the region north of Sumer. 

They were comprised of contentious tribal (and sub-tribal) groups led by ambitious chieftains.  

While they absorbed the Akkadian language and culture, they did not have the deep cultural beliefs in social order or in the veneration of cities and infrastructure that had kept Sumer peaceful and prosperous for so long. 

They saw no problem with fighting amongst themselves, forming unstable alliances across tribes and even, for some, the destructions of the great canals on which life in Sumer depended.

After the fall of UR III, the Amorite dynasty of Isin was strong enough to keep peace in southern and northern Sumer for a hundred years. 

But, this ended in 1926 or 1923 BC (middle chronology) when Larsa, under Gungunum, rebelled  and captured Ur, plunging southern Sumer into civil war.

There was not only war in the south, northern Sumer was left open to the sorts of conflicts already occurring across the rest of Amorite Mesopotamia. 

The (Amorite ruled) city of Kazullu (in northern Sumer) was one of the early losers in this period, finding itself attacked by several neighbours. 

It lost land, and ultimately fell, to a man called Sumu-(Amorite for chieftain) Abum. 

He established his capital at Kisurra but more importantly,  the land he conquered (1897 BC Middle Chronology) included Babylon

Babylon was at the time a small town, the cult centre for Marduk (at the time a relatively minor deity but destined to become the head deity of the Mesopotamian religious pantheon, as Babylon gained in prominence).

Little is known about the next three ‘Babylonian’ chieftains who were busy defending their territory and expanding it (modestly) at the expense of their neighbours. 

The greatest danger for them was attacks from the south (from Larsa and on one occasion from a briefly resurgent Isin).

Hammurabi’s father, Sin-Muballit, was more successful. He decisively repelled Larsa then steadily strengthening his kingdom into a significant (if somewhat modest) local power. 

He transferred his capital to Babylon and was the first of his 'Babylonian' dynasty to take on the Amorite title ‘Sin’ (meaning king).

He retired due to ill health with his son, Hammurabi (Amorite: ʿAmmu-rāpiʾ  meaning my grandfather, or paternal uncle, was great, or a healer), ascending to the throne at eighteen ( 1792 BC, MC). 

At that time the geopolitical situation was complex and in a state of flux.

To the south, Larsa and Isin continued to struggle for dominance while several cities maintained their independence.

To the East was Eshnunna. Eshnunna up until then was often a client state (most often of Elam)  but a strong and clever local dynasty had more recently taken control. 

They had managed to expand their territory and even forced the Amorite king Šamši-Adad I to flee his home in Ekallatum (in what would later become the Assyrian region) for Babylon.

Šamši-Adad I had subsequently returned and had proven triumphant. 

He conquered the nearby towns that had been weakened by Eshnunnites (but not held by them). 

He then used treachery towards his allies, war and even assassination to put his own son on the throne of Mari and make Eshnunna subservient to him.

This gave him an immense and rich kingdom, (‘The Kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia’). 

He controlled the important East-West overland trade routes and even 'inherited' the ancient Assyrian trading colonies in Anatolia.

To the Northwest (of Babylon) was the large and powerful Yamhad Amorite tribe centred on Halab (modern day Aleppo) and its smaller rival Qatna.

Of the warring and inter-tribal fractions it was (later) said :

"No king is truly powerful just on his own: ten to fifteen kings follow Hammurabi of Babylon, as many follow Rim-Sin of Larsa, as many follow Ibal-pi-El of Eshnunna, and as many follow Amut-pi-El of Qatna (North-west Amorite territory); but twenty kings follow Yarim-Lim of Yamhad (Aleppo).” 

Hammurabi is more famous for his Code of laws which he claimed to have received from Shamash, the Babylonian god of justice. He had it inscribed on human-sized stone pillars and placed them in the towns of his realm. 

Much could be said about this, but it isn’t the focus here. 

Only scanty and contradictory records remain of his military exploits. Many of the dates, sequences and circumstances are vague. 

At first his ambitions were stymied by the balance of power.

His first real opportunity came five years later. He had already joined an unsuccessful alliance against Larsa and then (1787 BC) took advantage of the weakness of Isin to turn against former allies to conquer Uruk and raid Isin. 

Unfortunately, his raid on Isin brought him into direct conflict with Rim-Sin. 

Rim-Sin was Larsa's greatest king and in the process of of taking possession of Isin and some of its former allies.  Hammurabi was driven back and lost the dynasty’s original capital, Kisurra, which later became independent.

The events leading to Hammurab's great breakthrough began many years later with the death of Šamši-Adad I (1776 BC, MC) the great king of the KoUM. 

After that the chickens came home to roost for the man’s successors.

One of his two sons very soon lost Mari (1775 B.C) to its exiled prince Zimri-Lim (with help from Yamhad).  Zimri-Lim remained beholden to Yamhad and called  its then king 'father'. As soon as he regained Mari, Zimri-Lim had to fight factions within his own tribe, after which he concentrated on modestly extending his kingdom to the North turning it into a strong and wealthy kingdom.

The other son of Šamši-Adad I, Ishme-Dagan I, was in charge of the region which would later become Assyria. He was a highly competent ruler and general but found himself pressed when Eshnunna rebelled 3-4 years later (1771 BC) and began to regain territory it had originally lost to the father.

 Hammurabi had already expanded his kingdom East and a little north which gave him a contested border with Eshnunna, and he joined in support of Ishme-Dagan I whose father once had taken refuge in Babylon. 

Over the next 5 or 6 years, Ibal pi’el II of Eshnunna found himself fighting on two fronts.

This lead him to make an alliance with the Gutians and his old allies the Elamites which gave him the command of a truly immense army: 12,000 of his own troops, 10,000 Gutians and a large expeditionary force of Elamites. 

More likely though, the Elamites (under the command of their great general Kunnam) had the greatest control over the combined force and Ibal pi’el II found himself increasingly a hostage to his Elamite allies. 

The Elamites began by betraying the Gutian princess, Nawaritum, who really wanted to attack Larsa. They took her army off her, probably with promises of rich plunder, and headed north. She disappeared form history.

While they had a huge army,  they still had a second front against the Babylonians  and Ishme-Dagan I (and Hammurabi) proved to be a clever adversaries. 

Ishme-Dagan I felt the brunt of their push but he made several local alliances and Assyria had regions that were difficult terrain for chariots and armies of that time to conquer. 

In the far north it is mountainous with well watered plains south of this. Going further south there are marshes,  before giving way to the more familiar arid regions of Mesopotamia. 

As their ‘Assyrian’ campaign slowed, the Eshnunnites (or more likely Kunnam) next betrayed their ally Mari by raiding their settlements, opening a third front for them. 

Yamhad hurried troops to the aide of  Mari. 

Facing the Elamites and Eshnunnites was a powerful but somewhat unwieldy alliance.

The Babylonians, (Amnanum  tribesmen) were allied with Ishme-Dagan I ( a more nomadic tribe). 

The Amorites from Mari were Banu-Simaal tribesmen with Yamhad tribes-men helping them.  

Ishme-Dagan I was now nominally on the same side as Zimri-Lim of Mari and those two definitely didn't get on! 

There was likely to be other ethnic groups and factional interests, but Hammurabi still managed to take control of the alliance and mold it too his will. He was senior in age, he was an experienced and  capable general and he had a very dominating personality. Besides, he was the only one friendly with all of them and he was the only king in the combined force (until Ishme-Dagan I joined them). 

Still it must have been an interesting planning group with so many fractions, especially when Hammurabi invited Ishme-Dagan I to join them in the command tent!

But things were going to became even more complicated.  

The Elamites, clearly unhappy with what they and achieved in terms of plunder and territorial gains turned on Eshnunna (which had been independent or semi-independent for some time). 

This meant that the diminished Eshnunnites were now battling the Elamites on another front,  but they couldn't stop them seizing Eshnunna and killing their king in 1765 BC.

Hammurabi continued to manage what must have been an unruly alliance by the use of persuasion, threats and bullying. He even got his old enemy , Rim-Sin of Larsa, to send him troops to evict the Elamites and incorporated some surviving Eshnunnites into his  Grand Army. 

He finally evicted the Elamites from Eshnunna and Mesopotamia in 1764 BC but he didn’t get all he wanted. 

He wanted to take control of Eshnunna himself or put his own client king on the throne but the army chose a man called Ṣillī-Sîn.

We don't know a lot about Ṣillī-Sîn. He may have been an Eshnunnite. He was described as a ‘modest section leader in the army’ which might be a nod to the old Sumerian penchant for understatement.

What we do know is that he was very wary of  Hammurabi and/or whatever alliance he was offered but he eventually accepted it and married one of  Hammurabi’s daughters.

It was then that Hammurabi showed his true colours.

On the flimsiest of pretexts, he took whatever of his ‘grand army’ that would follow him against  Rim-Sin of Larsa, claiming he hadn’t sent enough troops to help fight the Elamites.

During a six month campaign, he formed an alliance with Nippur and Lagash to help capture Isin and Uruk but then turned on his two new allies and captured their cities.  

This became a pattern for Hammurabi. 

Driven by power and greed he would make alliances and then break them as soon as they no longer suited him.

He conquered Larsa in 1763 BC after a siege of several months, capturing and murdering Rim-Sin, which left no one and no force in the south that could oppose him.

In 1762 BC he returned to the north to attack his new ally Ṣillī-Sîn, capturing Eshnunna in 1761 BC after an epic battle that involved 12,000 men on each side (presumably killing the new king).

In Autumn of the same year, he moved to attack and murder his long term ally Zimrî-Lîm of Mari. It is possible that Zimrî-Lîm had joined Ṣillī-Sîn in defending Eshnunna but his duplicity was amazing.

This left him free to attack Ishme-Dagan I but this time he faced a skilled and determined opponent resulting in a prolonged campaign. 

Ishme-Dagan I was  eventually forced to surrender with an unknown fraction of his kingdom remaining to him and pay tribute to Babylon. 

During this time Mari revolted (1759 BC).

Mari had been a wealthy trading kingdom and its palace was the envy of the region. This time Hammurabi returned to completely destroy the city so it could never rise again. 

In just a few years, (1755 BC) , Hammurabi was the undisputed master of Mesopotamia. Only Yamhad and Qatna maintained their independence.

 The Babylonians,  disastrous Emperors

They could conquer but they couldn't rule, all they did in the end was destroy. 

1.     They didn't get the people to love them.

It should have been a glorious triumph. Hammurabi should have had control of an incredibly powerful and rich Empire 

Later Babylonians deified  him, seeing him as a God and a great king. After all, he had made Babylon and its God Marduk great throughout Mesopotamia (and who doesn't like a triumphant conqueror?)  

But the people he conquered saw him very differently. 

He was treacherous,  a liar, a bully and a despot.

His ‘clever’ administrative reforms were built upon what many others such as Rim Sin of Larsa had done and his code of laws was built on existing Sumerian laws.

More importantly, he did not manage to make his newly conquered people love him, or his successor.  

As had been demonstrated several times before, Sumer would only unite behind a Lugal they admired and respected. Try to force them and they would only revolt.

By the time Hammurabi was finished conquering his empire, he had spent the last fourteen years of his reign almost continually fighting wars. 

He was old and sick. Samsu-Iluna, had already taken over many of the responsibilities of the throne and assumed full reign in 1749 BCE.

There was no problem with Samsu-iluna’s military abilities but when trouble broke out, there were just too many fires to put out.

Around 1741 BC Rim-sin II , a nephew of Rim-sin of Larsa, rebelled. A total of twenty six cities including the once powerful Eshnunna joined him. 

It took several years to put down this revolt but it was only a few years later when another pan-Sumerian revolt broke out, this time more successful. It established the somewhat enigmatic Sealand Dynasty in the far south of Sumer which was destined to outlast Amorite Babylon. 

And while Samsu-iluna’ was distracted by the first revolt, Assyria descended into chaos and civil war which removed the Amorite rulers (clients of Babylon) in favour of a new Akkadian (local) dynasty.

2.     Killing all the Geese that would have laid Golden Eggs for them

Mesopotamia was a very rich region. The first Babylonian Empire should have been very rich and powerful, but it destroyed much of what it conquered.

The records in the cities of Ur, Uruk,  Larsa, Nippur and Isin progressively ceased during Samsu-iluna's reign and archaeological records show these cities became largely or completely abandoned for hundreds of years, until well into the Kassite period. 

Great cities like Larsa and Mari never recovered. The trading city of Eshnunna was devastated and, while it would eventually recover, it was never great again.

Some archeologists have speculated that this was due to Amorite mismanagement, that the native Sumerians deserted the Amorites for the native Sealand Dynasty in the south. Whatever the truth of this part, the main reason was just how destructive Amorite rule was for its occupied lands.

The Babylonian’s favourite form of warfare was to construct fortified dams across a city’s water and irrigation canals either depriving it of water or releasing the water all at once to cause a flood. 

This was highly effective, but incredibly destructive in Sumer which only survived through its canals. The Babylonians never returned themselves to repair the damage, leaving any surviving locals to do that.

And, once they had conquered the city they would loot it and tear down its defensive walls. This left their conquered territory defenceless in the face of Elamite, Kassite and Amorite armies and slaver raids that followed.

In the end of his reign Samsu-iluna was only left with a kingdom that was only fractionally larger than the one his father had started out with 50 years before. 

He did have control of the Euphrates up to and including the ruins of Mari and its dependencies and whatever was left of a much diminished Eshnunna which also suffered a catastrophic flood in 1755 BC.

The Fall of Babylon

After fifty years, the (first) Babylonian Empire continued only in name. Future kings became defensive  and inward-looking.

Mesopotamia had a (mostly) peaceful influx of skilled farmers. 

Sumer had the Kassites (thought to come) from the Zagros region. 

Assyria, Yamhad and Anatolia had Hurrians coming from the Caucasus.

Yamhad filled some of the void caused by the destruction of Mari and eventually absorbed their rival Qatna but the last great Amorite kingdom was to become threatened by the rise of the Hittites who had begun uniting Anatolia under a single dynasty.

Hattusili I (1650–1620 BC) campaigned extensively against Yamhad and its allies. 

He bequeathed his empire to his grandson  Mursili I who finally conquered a much weakened Halap (Aleppo) and then took his troops on an epic march all the way south to sack Babylon (1595 BC).

 This left the site in ruins and not long after the industrious Kassite immigrants took over.

The Kassites went on to rehabilitate many Sumerians cities that had been depopulated by the Amorite Babylonians, eventually conquering the (Sumerian) Sealand dynasty in southern Sumer. 

Though more modest in size relative to the other Babylonian Empires, it was easily the longest lasting, lasting through till 1155 BC., almost six hundred years.

 I hope you have enjoyed this blog (2 of 2) of the Amorites 

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Wednesday 15 February 2023

Sumer after the Sumerians, the Amorites Rulers 1

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Sumer after the last Sumerian Dynasty

The Amorites 1 (of 2)


The land of Sumer hosted the world’s most dominant and sophisticated culture for an incredible four and a half millennia. It was one of the most productive and densely populated region of its time and gave rise to the world’s first true cities. For most of its early history, it was a food basket: exporting a massive agricultural surplus to many other regions and receiving much needed resources in return

In roughly 2200 BC, there was a mega drought affecting the most civilised parts of the ancient world (and beyond) and lasting a hundred years. The end of it very roughly corresponds to the start of Mesopotamia’s somewhat ill defined middle Bronze Age.

The result was catastrophic, with little rainfall to many places like the north of Mesopotamia which relied on rainfed agriculture and poor river flows in the great rivers (like Tigris-Euphrates and the Nile) resulting in failure of the annual flood and salinisation

Focusing on Mesopotamia: many cities, especially in the north became abandoned and there was a series of various ‘nomadic’ and other incursions affecting the Akkadian Empire and then the Third Dynasty of Ur (2112- 2004 BC).

The Amorites were the main group during Ur III period and were mentioned in the last blog. They were herdsmen thought to have come from the mountainous regions of central and western Syria. 

In happier times they would have practiced transhumance: spending the harsh dry summers in alpine meadows and moving down to the wadis (oases) that drained the mountains during the cold (relatively wet) winters that could see snow. 

It would be in these wadis (valleys) that they would have their villages.

The great drought forced them to spread widely over the fertile crescent. They reached Canaan where they are mentioned in the Bible and even contributed to the ‘Hyksos’, the foreign rulers that came from Canaan into northern Egypt at that time.

Returning the focus to Sumer, they also followed the great river (valley)s south, raiding, taking their herds, conquering and settling, despite everything the third Dynasty tried to do to stop them.

 Throughout history, many more people lived in rural than urban areas so, when they began to move in a whole-sale way during a mega-drought and a period of urban weakness, their numbers were unstoppable

After the rains returned, it would take another couple of centuries for Mesopotamia to be properly repopulated.

This mega-drought was not the only brutal one interrupting the "Wet Holocene' (called 'the African Humid Period' in Africa ) 14,500- 4,000 BC .

 Unfortunately for Sumer this one was on the background of a more insidious climate change. 

The wet Holocene which had sustained Sumer and many other places was ending. 

Over time, more and more of Sumer’s southern cities became abandoned and the once fertile fields returned to desert. The centre of power in Mesopotamia shifted slowly but permanently to the north. 

In Sumer this led to the rise of Babylon, but Southern Sumer wasn't finished yet.

The Isin/ Larsa Period

Note:  All dates are approximate, to convert from ‘Middle’ to ‘Short’  chronology’ subtract 64 yr

The Dynasty of Isin (2017—1771 BC.)

The Dynasty of Isin rose from the ashes of Ur III . While it claimed to be the successor to the third dynasty of Ur, it is ironic that it was established under the Amorites, by an Amorite called Ishbi-Erra (2017 -1986 BC)

There had already been a significant influx of Amorites into Sumer, some taking over cities and towns, others employed by those that had remained in Sumerian hands.

They enthusiastically absorbed Sumerian culture and religion and (the Akkadian) language including its written cuneiform form. Akkadian became the Linga Franca throughout much of the middle East for over a millennium.

Ishbi-Erra came from Mari, which had been an important trading city in the north in Akkadian times. 

Despite oft repeated assertions, Ishbi-Erra was an Amorite and was not likely to be related to the Akkadian ‘Shakkanakkus’ (hereditary governors ) of Mari who were able to hang on till about 1761 BC..

He was a talented adventurer who, whatever his position amongst the Amorites or even in Mari , had  gained a senior position in the Sumerian army (or administration). 

As discussed in the last blog, he stopped taking orders the Šarrum (the Akkadian term for Lugal) of Ur and ,as Ur’s power continued to wane, he progressively usurped power both in Isin and nearby cities.

He won a decisive battle against the (other) Amorites and ,after the fall of Ur, he defeated the Elamites more than once, finally ousting them from Ur, Uruk and the main spiritual centre of Nippur. He then went on to eject the Subartu from some of the northern cities like Eshnunna.

This allowed him to adopt the regal trappings of the  former Šarrum (Akkadian word for Lugal) including commissioning praise poetry and hymns to himself and other deities and proclaiming himself  Dingir-kalam-ma-na" (a God in his own country). 

Without doubt, much of this was personal hubris but hegemony over the Sumerians (wooing neutral cities) was not achieved by conquest. It was a function of the prestige other Sumerians and their leaders viewed a particular Lugal 

Defending Sumer from the Amorites and Elamites, liberating Ur, claiming to be the custodian of Sumerian culture was more than enough, but it was also expected for him to ‘blow his own horn’ so to speak (which he did). 

Isin and Sumer flourished under his dynasty for over 100 years,. Less is said about their military adventures suggesting it was a surprisingly peaceful time considering what had come before it.  The climate (for a time) was better , not only for the Sumerians and Akkadians but also for the Amorites who were particularly concentrated in the north. The rulers of Isin used dynastic marriages and treaties to maintain peace.

The Dynasty of Isin was able to rebuild Sumer's temples and cities that had fallen into disrepair and repair its canals. The control of the sea port of Ur gave them not only prestige but prosperity from the sea trade via the Persian Gulf.

Lipit-Ištar the last king of Ishbi-Erra’s dynasty is known for Sumerian language hymns and a code of laws written in Sumerian a hundred years before and influencing the famous (Babylonian) Code of Hammurabi.  

Unfortunately, for him and for Isin, it was during his reign that Isin suffered a serious reversal that spelt the end of its hegemony.



The once great city of Larsa had long lapsed into obscurity during the Akkadian period. It was initially under the direct control of Ur and then Isin. (Under Isin its governors were Amorites and more recently they had become hereditary). 

 In 1932 BC Gungunum (whose Amorite name is derived from the word for "defence"), inherited the post of governor from his brother and father. 

He wasn’t interested in peace like the rulers of Isin.

In the first five years of his reign (likely acting independently) he conducted a number of successful campaigns against Elam which had been at peace with Isin. 

This netted him an enviable reputation, a secure eastern flank and considerable wealth. The promise of plunder would have had men flocking to his banner. 

He then spent some time consolidating his position before marching on the important city of Ur and capturing it  (from Isin). 

Lipit-Ištar was caught flat footed by Gungunum’s attacks and forced into a rear guard action. We don’t know his fate, but subsequent rulers of Isin were locals, with Akkadian names. 

Larsa now became the dominant force in Southern Sumer and continued to attack Isin by building fortified dams to block its access to its canals, a technique abhorred by Sumerians. 

In some ways  Gungunum  only did to Isin what Ishbi-Erra had done to the last Šarrum of Ur but he had done it by force. 

Instead of unifying Sumer, he fragmented it and began a civil war.

 He and subsequent rulers of Larsa tried to claim hegemony (loyalty from non aligned rulers) but, as mentioned, hegemony in Sumer was not gained by force which would only foster rebellion and resentment.

At its height the city only had 10-15 cities allied with it and it was Isin, not Larsa that was the last dynasty recorded in the important Sumerian kings list. 

Many less powerful kingdoms in Sumer (such as Uruk) and further north  more powerful entities such as Eshnunna, Mari and Assur (Assyrians) asserted their independence.

It was a time of chaos and shifting alliances. It also allowed the Amorites to conquer more cities in the north of Sumer and the Elamites to resume raiding and demanding tribute in the South.

 Despite an alliance between Isin, Uruk and Babylon against him, Rim-Sin of Larsa campaigned steadily deeper into Isin’s territory beginning in 1807 BC.  Babylon pillaged the greatly weakened city (and its recent ally) in 1806 BC and Larsa captured it in 1792 BC. 

The kingdom of Larsa now led the strongest coalition in southern Sumer but unbeknownst to it, time (for it) was running out. .

More on this in the next blog on the first Babylonian Empire, but three decades later Hammurabi of Babylon attacked it (1764 BC) and , after a six month siege, incorporated it into his realm.

 I hope you have enjoyed this blog (1 of 2) on 'Sumer after the last Sumerian dynasty' 

I also write  Epic Fantasy set in ancient times and exotic locations

Please check out my Amazon Authors page here or at your favourite e-book store.

My first book :  'The Elvish Prophecy' is free. Universal link Click Here or Amazon Click Here

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Friday 16 September 2022

Sumer 5: The lost years and Sumer's last Empire

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Sumer 5

The lost years of the Gutian Dynasty

A time of suffering

To the Mesopotamians, the Gutians were a scourge, God's punishment visited upon the


"Nothing escaped their clutches, no one avoided their grasp. Messengers no longer traveled the highways, the courier's boat no longer passed along the rivers. Prisoners manned the watch. Brigands occupied the highways. The doors of the city gates of the Land lay dislodged in mud and all the foreign lands uttered bitter cries from the walls of their cities.

They were described as an unhappy people ‘who acted violently against the gods, people who the kingship of Sumer to the mountains took away, who Sumer with wickedness filled, who from one with a wife, his wife took away from him, who from one with a child, his child took away from him, who wickedness and violence produced within the country’.

Their raiding was said to interfere with agriculture, trade and the maintenance of the canals, worsening the effects of the crippling drought. 

This might have been true at first, but as soon as they began to rule Sumer rather than just pillage it, they would have needed to re-establish order and follow advice from their Sumerian subjects. Besides, they had their own likely smaller settlements in their own country, which we don't know much about. It is obvious that they were not as 'uncivlised' as they were painted. 

The earliest evidence of Gutian rule in Sumer came from a tablet of (Lugal) Annatum, a client king ruling Umma who had allegiance to Ba (lord)-Siûm, the second last Gutian ruler. Annatum, at least, seemed very happy with the situation. 

Dates and time periods


The period after the collapse of the Akkadian Empire has been described as a dark Age. The Gutian language had no written form.  The evidence we do have is scanty and contradictory. 

Adding to this is the inherent difficulty of dating ancient events.

The Sumerian year was 360 days with extra months added every four years to bring it in synch with solar events. Sumerian years were named according to some big event in the life of their ruler, such as  ‘the Year Sargon conquered Uruk’. Years may have varied between cities.  

The best attempts to reconcile ancient years depends on the cycles of Venus recorded in ancient Babylon, but this results in different chronologies varying by up to 64 years. Then these dates have to be extrapolated many centuries backwards which is a meticulous task in the face of scanty, sometimes confusing, evidence. 

Having ‘short’ and ‘middle chronologies’ can make sorting out any confusion difficult for the average reader. Many writers (myself included) don't always explain which system he or she is using. The middle is more conventional.


One of several examples of this confusion is the life of Puzur-Inshushinak , the great King of Susa whose life spanned the Gutian period. He was named 'calling the God Inshushinak',  He is thought  was said to begin as a client king of Shar-Kali-Sharri, the last Akkadian emperor.

He conducted a three year successful  campaign in the Zagreb region in 2110 BC on behalf of the Akkadians before declaring his independence in 2090 BC.  He then began to conquer the rest of Elam at the expense of the Akkadians as their empire weakened. 

The first problem we have with this is that Shar-Kali-Sharri's reign is thought to have ended about a hundred years before these dates. 

Also from Elamite and Neo-Sumerian records, Puzur-Inshushinak (if it was still him) is thought to have lived through till the time of Ur-Namma, the second Neo Sumerian Emperor. 

His living over what we believe was such a long period cannot be resolved with our current view of dates. 

Gutian control

The Gutians took over Adab and made it their capital most likely sometime towards the end of Shar-kali-sharri's (the fourth Akkadian Emperor's) reign (when things began to fall apart). 

This means that there was a period with Gutian rule overlapping with the last of the Akkadian Emperors (?) 29 years. 

After this, Uruk was strong enough to take Akkad and hold it for (?) 30 years. 

Other cities maintained their independence during this period. Lagash is one example of a city which gained independence when Shar-Kali-Sharri's Empire began to implode and it remained largely independent throughout the whole Gutian period until it was defeated by the emerging Neo-Sumerians, marking the end of its dynasty

During Gutian times, it entered into a golden age under its able énsi, Gudea. Interestingly, Gudea sent forth military campaigns into Elam. As he didn't campaign against the Gutians this suggested he had to some sort of accommodation with them, suggesting they were not as bad as claimed.

The time periods and sequence of events is most unclear but likely 60 years after establishing their base at Adab, the Gutians made a major push: overwhelming  Akkad, southern Sumer and Elam.


Just after this, in a deposition at the holy city of Nippur, one of their kings (Erridupizir) described himself as ‘the King of four quarters’ and says he was engaged in putting down rebellions in Simurrum the southern most  Hurrian city and its Lullubi allies. 

Some of the areas in the north of Mesopotamia were depopulated due to the catastrophic drought so this suggest he controlled a large empire. It was a phenomenal achievement for a race dismissed by Mesopotamians as having the 'intelligence of dogs', 'the appearance of monkeys' and a language which was a 'confused babble'.


 The Gutians were said to have 'destroyed'  Akkad perhaps around around 2083 BC. but Akkad had several client kings after this and the Gutians set up their main northern base somewhere in or near there. Presumably the old Akkadian capital wasn't completely destroyed.

From their two bases, they could send raiding parties by land or river canal and they weren’t above blocking water distribution or supplies to cities that opposed them. 


Local Sumerian dynasties continued. Some we know were client kings like Lugal-annatum of Umma and some had considerable independence like the rulers of Lagash. Many of those would pay tribute. It was the long standing system in Sumer under their lugals, as long as it wasn't as onerous as it had been in Akkadian times.

Competition from Susa

The Gutians, even at their height, were not unopposed. 

It is said that Puzur-Inshushinak of Susa (assuming it was him)  extended his territory at the expense of the dying Akkadian Empire to conquer all of Elam. He, like everyone else , was overwhelmed by the Gutians (during their major push) but towards the end of the Gutian period he began to take much of northern Sumer from Gutians including Eshnunna and Akkad and probably Akshak. 

According to the inscriptions of Ur-Namma, Puzur-Inshushinak then went on to numerous cities in central Mesopotamia. This left the Gutians holding Adab and a few surrounding towns, possibly isolated from their Gutian homeland by Elamite forces and maybe being pressed by them from the East.

It allowed Utu-hengal an easy victory over the Gutians who then agreed to leave Sumer.

The Neo (new) Sumerian Empire

(2112- 2004 BC) and the Sumerian renaissance

For the next eighty years there was a renaissance of Sumerian culture and power. 

Sumerian was still the language of religion, art and science and Akkadian remained the ‘Linga Franca’. Later kings took Akkadian names.

Utu-hengal of Uruk, and the start of the Neo-Sumerian Empire  

Utu-Hengal of Uruk is thought to have been a client king of the Gutians who rebelled as the Gutians weakened. 

His son in law, Ur-Nammu, the ensi of Ur, helped him conquer the rival city of Lagash which had grown in power and influence, marking the end of the Lagash dynasty. 

 Utu-Hengal then marched on Tirigan, the newly elected last Gutian ruler of Sumer.  Tirigan sent out envoys to sue for peace, but Ute- Hengal captured and bound them. 

As described in his victory stele, after much stopping to pray, he went on to have what

seemed an easy victory (using some sort of trap) around 2050 BC.
Tigran fled to a nearby settlement where he and his family were well treated until Utu-Hengal  demanded their surrender.   
Tirigan agreed to leave Sumer with his people in exchange for his freedom, showing just how weakened the once feared Gutians had become.

Utu-Hengal was then able to unite the rest of southern Sumer under his leadership, initiating the Neo-Sumerian Empire.

 The cumulative damage to Akkad from these multiple conquests was so severe that no one has been able to identify its ruins. Perhaps it was a fitting end to the brutal Akkadian period of history.

After uniting a large part of southern Sumer and evicting the Gutians, Utu-hengal began the process of rehabilitating Sumerians power, culture and infrastructure. In fact he died seven years later in an accident while inspecting a dam (or maybe he drowned while fishing).

Utu-hengal’s military achievements were exaggerated.

Utu-hengal was revered  by later generations of Mesopotamians who saw him as beginning the Neo-Sumerian Empire, a major Sumerian renaissance and the expulsion of the hated Gutians. 

While considerable poetic licence is expected on victory stelae over the Gutians Utu-hengal described himself as the ‘King of the four quarters of the world’ which he most definitely was not. He didn’t even have control of the Uri region which was held by the Elamites and his victory over the already defeated Gutians in Sumer was not as heroic as it may have been portrayed. 

Admittedly, like many Neo-Sumerian Emperors, he took even greater pride in the rehabilitation of Sumerian culture and infrastructure. He was particularly known for his piety and support of temples. 


The poem ‘The Death of Utu-hengal and descent into the underworld’ written shortly after his death suggests he was betrayed (presumably murdered) by his own men.  

His son in law, Ur-Namma, had to fight unarmed rivals from Uruk for the succession, confirming the possibility of a coup. Ur-Namma was victorious and took the 'kingship' to Ur so the Neo-Sumerian Empire is also called the third Dynasty of Ur (Ur  111). 

He then claimed to be the elder brother of the ancient hero Gilgamesh and hence a son of the Goddess Ninsun (of the wild cows), establishing his legitimacy. 

The Ur dynasty is not the only dynasty claiming descent from Ninsun, Gudea of lagash had made a similiar claim. 

Records from Ur-Namma's time emphasises his contributions to law, arts, culture, and infrastructure including the commencement of the great ziggurat at Ur.  

Ziggurat of Ur

Less is known about his military activities but it was he that evicted the Elamites, taking  control of all of Sumer and pressing on to take control over Elam. He also conducted a devastating raid on the Gutian heartland. 

During his reign, brigands were cleared from the roads and pirates from the coasts. 

He formed an alliance with Mari to oppose the growing military threat posed by the Amorites.

The Neo-Sumerian Empire was not Sumer of old returned.

In the middle of the twentieth century it was commonly assumed that Ur-Namma’s  ‘Empire’ covered much of northern Mesopotamia and stretched as far as Byblos in Lebanon. 

Part of the confusion was caused by the scant mention of his military campaigns and because the Neo-Sumerians called foreign kings ‘énsi’ as opposed to their own emperor-king ( mostly called Lugal or sometimes Śarrum (the Akkadian word for Lugal)

The title énsi was the same for client kings and governors and caused some early archaeologists assume that many independent kings were actually appointed from Ur.

Ur-Namma’s  most distant and northern-most city was likely Aššur (destined to become one of the Assyrian Empire’s capitals) . 

And, after a brave start, things were going to get  more difficult for the Neo-Sumerians.

There had been a period of slightly better climate but the drought recurred beginning around 2200 BC.  Southern Sumer, once the great food bowl and one of the most densely populated region on earth continued to lose land to salinisation and desertification.

The Neo-Sumerians tried to rehabilitate some of their failing cities and settlements by building temples and performing devotions, trying to regain the favour of the local Gods to ensure their blessings but despite  their best efforts, land loss continued and Eridu, the oldest of their great settlement (not the first to become a city) was the first to be abandoned.

And the ‘barbarian’ threat was far from ended. 

Ur-Namma who claimed to have ‘destroyed the Gutians’ by a punitive raids on their homeland, but the Gutians in their homeland proved to be a tougher proposition than evicting their last defeated remnants form Sumer.

Ur-Namma died on a later campaign against them (2095 BC) when his army was routed, leaving him isolated and out in the front

And the Gutians were not the only of the Zagros hill tribes to attack the Neo-Sumerians. Around 2088 and 2031 a vast confederation of Hill tribes from a little further north to the Gutians ‘rose like locusts’ to attack Sumer.  

But if the Gutians were the scourge of the Akkadians, it was the Amorites who were the scourge of the Neo-Sumerians.

The Hebrew name ‘Amorite’, the Akkadian Amurrūm (transliterated as MAR.TU)  and the Sumerian Tidnum all mean ‘westerners’.  They were related to the Arameans of later history and spoke an early version of Aramaic, a  language similar to Hebrew. 

In typical Sumerian fashion, the Neo-Sumerians dismissed them as herding barbarians.

The MAR.TU who know no grain.... The MAR.TU who know no house nor town, the boors of the mountains.... The MAR.TU who digs up truffles... who does not bend his knees (to cultivate the land), who eats raw meat, who has no house during his lifetime, who is not buried after death.

But this was a serious under-estimation. The Amorites a little bit further north were rebuilding settlements that had been destroyed or devastated by drought, including the once powerful city of Ebla after its destruction by Sargon. 

Shulgi, Ur-Namma’s  son (2094 – c. 2046 BC)

Shulgi was the greatest emperor  of the dynasty. He finished the great Ziggurat at Ur. He improved roads and his was the first empire to set up a system of inns along them. He is credited with standardising administrative processes, archival documentation, the tax system (including taxing temples)  and the national calendar. He improved the army with more specialisation.

Cylindrical seal of Shulgi, Louvre

Perhaps in line with the theme of exaggeration, he called himself a God and claimed he once ran between Nippur and Ur and back in the one day. A literary man, he spoke Elamite, Akkadian and Sumerian and wrote a long hymns to glorify himself, his manliness and his actions.

His reign started with a punitive raid on the Gutians and then, after enjoying seven years of relative peace, he was almost constantly at war. Details are sketchy. He retained control of Susa but other parts of Elam rebelled and he had to deal with the massive incursion of hill tribes across his Eastern Border. 

While he was in the East he decided to extend the Empire but even he needed multiple attempts to take the southern Hurrian strong hold city of Simurrum (and its neighbouring ally Lullubi).  Whether he took Nineveh and, if so, whether he managed to hold it is unclear but which he considered this greatest triumph. Admittedly Simurrum was virtually a city-fortress and stubbornly held, but it points to the weakness of even his reformed army.

He had managed to keep the peace in the north-west, for a while, despite immigration of Amorites southwards and  both Hurrians and Amorites began to appear in his army. Unfortunately towards the end of his reign, that the Amorites began to threaten Sumer.

Shulga, in some haste, tried to built a great (earthen) wall to try to keep them out. It was said to be 155 miles (250 kilometres) long. It was world’s first great wall built by a civilisation to keep barbarians.

According to one version, it was too long for Shulgi to man properly and was not anchored by natural barriers so the Amorites could simply walk around it. Whether this was true or not, or whether it wasn’t finished, it was clearly a measure of his desperation and it was ineffective. 

Amar-Sin and Shu-Sin

Shulgi was succeeded by his two sons both of whom used the Akkadian versions of their names. The first was Amar-Sin (2046-2037 BC), seemed to hold onto most of the Empire, but he is mainly recorded as campaigning in obscure so presumably unimportant places. The only ones that were recognisable were Urbilum (Erbil in northern Iraqi, Kurdistan region) and parts of Elam. It was he that unsuccessfully tried a building program to rehabilitate some of the failing Southern cities. 

Shu-Sin (2037  BC – 2028), his brother, also ruled for about 9 years and tried to stabilise his north-west region against the Hurrians and Amorites.  He sent an army from Aššur to conquer (or reconquer) as far as Nineveh but soon he was facing a full scale fight with the Amorites on the other flank.  He spent the rest of his time fortifying his southern cities and building his own great version of a(n earthen wall) around 2034 BC. It was called the Wall of Amurru after the Akkadian name for the Amorites. 

We don’t know the location of Shulga’s wall or whether it became part of the later  Amurru Wall. The Ammaru wall stretched from the Tigris and Euphrates and a little beyond on either side. It was a 170 miles (280 km) long. It was located a little to the south of Kish so really only protected the Southern most cities. The ruins of it can still be seen today north of Baghdad.

Ibbi-Sin,  the last Emperor.

 (2028–2004 BC)

Maybe the emperors of Ur were all a little crazy, claiming they were Gods related to the

  moon God, Sin. If so, Ibbi-Sin, Shu-Sin’s son was crazier than most. 

In the middle of the catastrophe engulfing his empire, Ibbi-Sin seemed more focused on religious rituals and the selection of priests. Probably, like many Sumerians, he was hoping the favour of the Gods would make his problems go away.

He then ordered more earthen fortifications to Ur and Nippur. On one, he claimed that the wall he had built was so imposing it would ‘make the lands secure and to make the highlanders and lowlanders bow down before him.’ How a mud-brick defensive wall around one city would strike fear into his enemies and unite his kingdom was never explained.

As the Amorites began over-running the countryside and capturing cities, other cities were declaring independence. Brigands roamed the roads. With the drought and chaos, grain prices were said to reach 60 times normal. Susa declared independence  (again) and turned hostile (again). 

Meanwhile, Shu-Sin proclaimed wondrous alliances and victories over the Amorites and Elamites. In one inscription “ … Ibbi-Suen, the king of Ur, overwhelmed Susa, Asamdun, and Awan like a storm, subdued them in a single day and seized the lords of their people …” 

A bit like Hitler in his final bunker, he had retreated into fantasy. In the end all he had was one impoverished city. 

Somewhere around 2004 BC the Elamites captured Ur and he died a prisoner.

The Dynasty of Isin, pretenders to the throne

Ibbi-Sin had at least one competent governor, Ishbi-Erra in the city Isin, 20 miles south of Nippur.  Ishbi-Erra was an Amorite from Mari working for the Sumerians and he got ready for what he saw coming by hoarding grain. Then he led his own army to have decisive victories over the (other) Amorites and eventually reclaimed Ur and Uruk from the Elamites. 

For the next hundred years, his dynasty took on the trappings of Neo-Sumerian Emperors.

They were the most powerful of several independent Sumerian cities, keeping the peace and competing with places like Eshnunna, Aššur, Larsa and Lagash. 

Meanwhile the Amorites were only getting stronger in their new capital Babylon in the Uri region. The remains of Sumer was finally conquered by the famous Hammurabi. It was he that created the first Babylonian Empire and ended Sumerian power in Mesopotamia forever.

More on this in the next blog on the Amorite rulers. 

Foot note 1: Abraham, the great patriarch

Abraham, descendent of Noah and the great Hebrew patriarch was said to be born in the ‘Ur of the Chaldeans’ but this was much later.  The (Iron Age) Chaldean dynasty of Babylon ruled Ur briefly from the late 7th century BC. 

Not long after them, Ur was finally abandoned.

Foot note 2: Iraq, salinisation and today

Through a sharp rise in population over the last fifty years and loss of productive land, Iraq is not alone in the region for going from an exporter to a net importer of food.

Many areas that were incredibly fertile in ancient times have long returned to desert. In more recent  times, 30% of irrigated land has gone out of production, and Iraq continues to lose 25 000 hectares per year. There are significantly low yields on another 70% of its irrigated lands. Many farmers are reliant on subsidies which were slowed due to government deficits and it is hard for them to compete with cheap imported food. 

Farming employs 20 % of the work force and contributes 3% to the GDP.

Iraq has also suffered a long period of war (s), turmoil, earlier sanctions, insurgency and ethnic violence. It is fortunate that it has oil and lots of it. While things are finally improving in the overall economy, attempts to improve local food production have not managed to gain a lot of traction yet.

 I hope you have enjoyed this final blog on the Incredible Sumerians. 

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