History : Aug-Sep 2015
evolving toward a new political structure: empire. The first large-scale empire in Mesopotamia took shape with the extensive territorial conquests made by Sargon of Akkad, who came to the throne in 2334 b.c. When his Akkadian Empire fell it was replaced by another powerful and imperialist state, the third dynasty of Ur. Its founder, King Ur-Nammu, published the earliest law code yet discovered—the Code of Ur-Nammu. In its prologue the monarch unequivocally establishes his role as the guarantor of justice: “Then did Ur-Nammu the mighty warrior, king of Ur, king of Sumer and Akkad, by the might of Nanna, lord of the city, and in accordance with the true word of Utu, establish justice in the land.” Nearly 350 years before Hammurabi this monarch was already emphasizing the nascent but increasingly important idea that Mesopotamian rulers had a duty to safeguard the established order and uphold justice. Ur-Nammu’s set of laws was one of the world’s first attempts to draw hundreds of years earlier with the most ancient of all legal systems—the Sumerian laws. These first emerged in Mesopotamia toward the end of the third millennium b.c., a natural result of the evolution of complex urban societies and the development of writing. The Code Makers “Urukagina has reached agreement with the god Ningirsu that the orphan and the widow will not be at the mercy of the powerful.” This pious injunction comes from the legal reforms put in place by Urukagina, king of the city of Lagash. Faced with an economic crisis, Uruka- gina enacted a series of measures designed to cancel the mounting taxes of his citizens. These rulings are among the first to demonstrate how important making and enforcing laws had be- come for Mesopotamia’s rulers. To the three guiding values of kingship—strength, courage, and a warrior spirit—Urukagina would be the first to add a fourth: justice. This was an era of significant political and social upheaval, when the city-state had begun A RULER BY DIVINE RIGHT This agate stone (below) is inscribed with a dedication to the god Shamash by King Hammurabi. From 1792-1750 b.c . the monarch ruled over one of the major power centers of Mesopotamia. BR I T ISHMUSEUM/SCALA,FLORENCEXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX E. LESSING/ALBUM E. LESSING/ALBUM AKG/ALBUM Ur-Nammu, Foundation Figure, 2112 b.c . Prologue to the Code of Lipit-Ishtar Fighters on a Eshnunna relief, third millennium b.c . Stela dedicated to Hammurabi, second millennium b.c . BRITISH MUSEUM/SCALA, FLORENCE 2100 - 2000 b.c. The third dynasty of Ur forms the powerful empire of Sumer. Invasions by the Amorites, combined with attacks from the kingdoms of Elam and Shimashki, bring about the collpase of Ur. 2000 - 1800 b.c. The Isin and Larsa period sees Amorite nomads establishing dynasties in Mesopotamia. Political upheaval in the south is caused by the struggle for hegemony between the cities of Isin and Larsa. Mid 19th-century b.c. The seizure of the Diyala River Valley gives the city of Eshnunna control over vital commercial routes between the Zagros Mountains and southern Mesopotamia. Around 1760 b.c . Hammurabi takes Eshnunna. 1792 b.c. Hammurabi, sixth king of the first Amorite dynasty of Babylon, accedes to the throne. His son, Samsu-Iluna succeeds him in 1750 b.c., by which time his empire stretches from the Persian Gulf to the middle Euphrates. 2112 - 2047 b.c. The first Mesopotamian legal code is written: The Code of Ur- Nammu. Although attributed to the first king of the third Ur dynasty, it could be the work of his son and successor, Shulgi. 1934 - 1924 b.c. Lipit-Ishtar, king of the city of Isin, fights to consolidate his control of Sumer (Lower Mesopotamia). To support his authority he orders the writing of his own legal code. 1800 b.c. In the first year of Dadusha’s reign over the city of Eshnunna, a new legal code is proclaimed. It almost coincides with that of the great King Hammurabi. 1758 b.c. Hammurabi of Babylon orders the compiling of a legal code that will be remembered as the first comprehensive legal corpus in history.