Lagash, the lost city of Mesopotamia

(ORDO NEWS) — The historical region of Mesopotamia has long been considered one of the cradles of civilization. Bounded by the fertile Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Mesopotamia was the birthplace of some truly prosperous and innovative early civilizations.

Chief among these was the civilization of Sumer, well known for its revolutionary inventions such as early writing.

The Sumerians were truly unique, they were distinguished by powerful city-states that often competed for power and wealth. One of the most prominent city-states was the city of Lagash, a major and influential player in the politics and economy of Sumer.

It had a long and varied history, but was eventually lost over time. What little remains of it today is a veritable Pandora’s box for archaeologists. During the excavations, many significant finds were found that made it possible to understand the rich history of Lagash and the Sumerian civilization in general.

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How did Lagash originate?

Covering about 300 hectares, Lagash was a moderately sized but powerful and influential city-state in Mesopotamia. This small kingdom consisted of three large urban centers, each of which was located at a distance of about 20 kilometers from each other.

These were the actual city of Lagash (modern Al-Khiba), the religious center of Girsu (modern Telloh) and Nina Sirara (modern Zurgul).

Cities called Erim and Uruazagga were also probably part of the state of Lagash. In its heyday, Lagash was a city located close to the sea, since the modern Persian Gulf extended much further inland than it does now.

In the same way, cities like Ur and Nina were practically on the coast, although today they are located hundreds of kilometers inland.

The exact time of the foundation of the city is not exactly known, but the surviving cuneiform inscriptions confirm that it was an important Sumerian city in the 3rd millennium BC.

It was located approximately in the middle between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, in the territory of modern southeastern Iraq. The original settlement was probably founded during the Ubaid period, which lasted from about 5200 to 3500 BC.

By the time of the Parthians, from 247 BC. to 224 AD, Lagash was still inhabited, testifying to its venerable antiquity. However, after several millennia, modern Lagash is barely distinguishable. However, in the recent past, a tell (artificial mound) was discovered, which gave rise to extensive archaeological excavations.

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The French were the first to begin excavations at this site, eventually identifying it with ancient Lagash. Between 1877 and 1933, several major archaeological campaigns were carried out, during which many valuable finds were found. In particular, more than 50,000 clay tablets with cuneiform texts were found here.

These writings have become a fundamental source in order to piece together the mystery of Lagash, its rulers, its history and influence in the region. It was also important in establishing the chronology of the development of Lagash, as well as the chronology of Sumerian art and its development.

Also important were the discovered dedicatory inscriptions, which were crucial for establishing a more or less uninterrupted history of Sumer from around 2500 BC. and ending around 2350 BC, especially in relation to the main ruling figures and key events.

An important site in the cradle of the Sumerian civilization

The rulers of Lagash called themselves lugal, which means “king”. In this regard, it is obvious that they considered Lagash to be a kingdom, but the city-state, oddly enough, never appeared in the surviving Sumerian King List.

Nevertheless, Lagash played an important role in the political and economic life of the region, reaching its peak between 2450 and 2300 BC. It came to the fore after the partial demise of two other rival city-states, namely Kish and Uruk, and remained a major player until the collapse of the Third Dynasty of Ur at the end of the third millennium BC.

French excavations of dedicatory inscriptions played a decisive role in the establishment of the ruling dynasty, which was founded in Lagash. These rulers, now known to history, managed to bring the city-state a period of success and prosperity that lasted for several centuries.

But before they began to rule, one king stood out. His name was Mesilim, king of Kish, and he ruled around 2600 BC. and had power over several independent cities, including Lagash. This means that the very first rulers of Lagash were subjects of their neighbors.

The first documented ruler was En-Hegal, a subject of the city-state of Uruk. Next in line is Lugal-sha-Engur, who was the ensi – the ruler – of Lagash and a subject of King Mesilim. However, around this time, the story of Lagash’s independence and rise to power begins.

King Mesilim was known as a mediator in border disputes between his subjects. One such dispute was between Lagash and its worst rival, the city of Umma. Their conflict has existed for many generations and often turned into war.

Around 2500 B.C. a new ruler appeared in Lagash, a certain Ur-Nanshe, who successfully defended his lands from the rival Umma, and then achieved the independence of Lagash. He became the first king, establishing a royal dynasty that lasted five generations.

Ur-Nanshe was a great builder and a powerful ruler: he ordered the construction of numerous temples (in Lagash, Nin and Girsu), irrigation canals, harems and other buildings.

Numerous inscriptions are associated with him, indicating that he established the import of goods from foreign lands, attached great importance to religion and temple construction, and had considerable power.

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Golden Age under King Eannatum

His grandson was even more famous: it was Eannatum, the third king of Lagash. This ruler continued the achievements of his grandfather: he significantly expanded his territories and influence, subjugating the cities in most of Sumer. Among them were Ur, Larsa, Uruk, Nippur and Akshak.

He also conquered the neighboring civilization of Elam by destroying its capital, Susa. In addition, he put an end to the bitter conflict between Lagash and Umma by defeating the latter and making an agreement with their new ruler.

His accomplishments have been well documented in inscriptions and clay tablets. One of these stone dedications reads:

“Eannatum, ensi of Lagash, to whom Enlil bestowed power, who is constantly fed with his milk by Ninhursag, whose name was uttered by Ningirsu, whom Nanshe chose in her heart, the son of Akurgal, ensi of Lagash, conquered the land of Elam, conquered Urua, conquered Umma, conquered Ur.

In at that time he built for Ningirsu a well of baked bricks in the wide courtyard of his temple. The god of Eananatum is Shulutula. Then Ningirsu fell in love with Eananatum.”

Umma and Lagash have been in constant feud since the reign of King Mesilim of Kish. They fought over their borders, mainly for possession of the fertile plain of Gu-Edin. After the death of Mesilim, the ruler of Umma, Ush, destroyed the boundary stones as a sign of rebellion, pushing Lagash into a new conflict.

Eannatum, one of the most prominent rulers of his time, decisively defeated the forces of Umma, killing Ush and forcing his successor to sue for peace. His many accomplishments have been commemorated in Lagash’s most famous relic, the Stele of the Vultures.

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Brief rise of Sargon of Akkad

In subsequent generations, the conflict with the Ummah was repeatedly renewed. Eannatum’s successors, Enannatum and Entemena, both defeated the kings of Umma, reasserting the dominance of Lagash.

Alas, after their reign, Lagash seems to have begun to wane in its power. Entemena was the last great king of the Ur-Nanshe dynasty – his followers probably did not achieve much success.

The hostilities with the Umma did not stop, and the Elamite troops, according to available records, tried to raid Lagash itself.

Possible internal strife also contributed to the weakening of power: successive kings such as Enentarzi, Lugalanda and Urukagina were probably usurpers or interventionists who did not belong to the original ruling dynasty.

If Lugalanda was marked as a corrupt and unsuccessful ruler, then his usurper Urukagina was marked for his social and ethical reforms – some of the earliest in human history.

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However, Urukagina was noted as the last ruler of the first dynasty of Lagash. His reign ended fatally at the hands of Lugalzaggesi, the ambitious king of Umma, who conquered most of Sumer.

Clay tablets record that he destroyed and plundered the cities and temples of Lagash, and Urukagina most likely survived these events, possibly in exile.

However, the era of independence for both Umma and Lagash – and most other Sumerian cities – ended with the dramatic rise of the city-state of Akkad.

Its most prominent ruler, the famous Sargon of Akkad, who reigned from about 2334 to 2279 BC, conquered both cities and almost all of Mesopotamia, creating the rather short-lived Akkadian Empire.

Despite its power and historical significance, this empire fell about 180 years after its founding. As it arose, so it fell – as a result of the conquest. The Akkadians were subject to the Gutium mountain dwellers, who conquered many cities throughout Sumer.

However, their reign was short-lived. Less than a century later, they were driven out by King Ur-Namma, founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur. And it was a new chance for Lagash to regain independence and influence.

So, 150 years after the defeat from Urm, Lagash again experienced a revival. During this period, the Second Dynasty of Lagash arose, the earliest representatives of which, such as Lugal-Ushumgal and Puzer-Mama, were simple rulers.

It is likely that after this Lagash had no kings, but even at this time he enjoyed great independence and importance. It reached its absolute zenith, its golden age, during the reign of Ensi Ur-Baba and then his successor, Ensi Gudea, who probably reigned from 2080 to 2060 BC.

Gudea’s reign

Gudea is depicted in numerous inscriptions, about 26 of his high-quality statues have been preserved. Although the Gutians were never expelled during his reign, he still achieved great independence for Lagash.

It is known that he traded with foreign countries, importing luxurious cedar wood from Lebanon and the mountains of Amanus, expensive diorite from the lands of Arabia, imported copper and gold, as well as limestone, steatite and alabaster.

At this time, Lagash was involved in conflicts with Elam, located in the east. The city-state at that time was actually located in the religious center of Girsu, and in total it had about 17 cities, of which Girsu and Lagash were probably the largest.

According to one estimate, during the reign of Gudea, Lagash was the largest city in the world.

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But just a few decades after Gudea, the Third Dynasty of Ur rose. The Gutian invaders were expelled forever, and King Ur-Nammu founded his vast state, also known as the Neo-Sumerian Empire. Lagash became one of its largest and richest provinces, but lost its independence as a city-state.

However, it remained an important regional center, with a flourishing arts and culture, and great artistic development.

From archaeological research and excavations it is known that there were many temples in Lagash, including the “Temple of the Seven Gates” and E-Ninna, the “House of Fifty”, the residence of the supreme god Enlil, the patron deity of Lagash.

One of the most remarkable architectural achievements of Lagash was the dam and regulator, which probably had sluice gates to help store precious water supplies in large reservoirs.

A fading city left at the mercy of a passing history

After the fall of the Third Dynasty of Ur at the hands of the invading Elamites around 2004 B.C. Lagash and Girsu have probably begun to lose their importance.

The history of Mesopotamia continued for centuries, constantly turbulent and changeable, and new dynasties, new kingdoms, cities and new peoples appeared in the region. Amorites, Kassites, Hittites and others – they all determined the future of Mesopotamia.

Lagash gradually disappeared from historical records. Over the centuries, which turned into millennia, the region of Mesopotamia was completely changed.

And history has done what it does best: this once opulent and sprawling city has been quietly reduced to nothingness, it has been lost. Now, on the site of the once majestic buildings, you can see only mounds and arid landscapes.


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