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Lagash - 2500-2271 BC, 2144-2046 BC

First dynasty of Lagash
Inannatum I2440
Inannatum II2390
Second dynasty of Lagash
Lagash is the name of a Sumerian city-state located by the Tigris River, in southeast Mesopotamia. The first cities developed in the Mesopotamian plain, specifically in the south at about 3500-2800 BCE. These cities were in the general region named Sumer. Around 2800 Kish, the dominant city, was challenged by Lagash. The Lagash Empire (2500-2270 BC) was by some accounts one of first verifiable empires in history of the world. King Eannatum of the Sumerian King Eannatum of the Sumerian city-state of Lagash conquered all of Sumer. He then extended the empire to Elam (SW Iran) and Persian Gulf. Lagash commanded tribute from all subjects within its empire, which largely collapsed after Eannatum's death. It lived on in a somewhat disjointed fashion, periodically being conquered by other Sumerian kings until 2270. The zenith of the power of the First Dynasty of Lagash is variously dated as betweeen 2500-2360 BC and 2500-2271 BC. The Dynasties of Lagash are not found on the Sumerian king list.

The ancient city of Lagash had a long history as a separate state, though with many fluctuations of power. It was located at modern Tell al-Hiba, Dhi Qar Governorate, Iraq) is located northwest of the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and east of Uruk, about 22 km (14 mi) east of the modern town of Ash Shatrah. On the banks of the canal Shatt-'el-Hai, which unites the Tigris and Euphrates, is a mound Telloh. Ancient Ngirsu (modern Telloh), about 25 km (16 mi) northwest of Al-Hiba, was the religious center of the Lagash state, from which have come vast stores of inscribed tablets of every description.

The city had several divisions, of which the names Girsu, Nina, Uru-azagga, and Uru have been recovered. Girsu seems to have been the most important, for it contained the great temple erected by Ur-Nina to the goddess Ningirsu, whose very name connects her with this quarter of the city.

The Akkadian empire evntually took over this territory. Control of Lagash fell to Sargon of Akkad (reigned c. 2334-2279 BC), but about 150 years later Lagash enjoyed a revival. In the year 2180 BC, the Akkadian empire was attacked by people from the northeast, known as the Guti. The Guti had controlled most of Mesopotamia, but the Sumerians regained control soon after. During the Guti control, Lagash was the only city-state that remained independent. They may have paid blackmail to the chieftains of the Guti to do so.

Second Dynasty of Lagash was founded by Lugalushumgal, patesi of Shirpurla, a contemporary both of Sargon I and Naram-Sin. Lugalushumgal, who was patesi of Shirpurla, is called 'scribe' ( = idpiru) and servant, thus clearly indicating that this patesi was dependent on Naram-Sin, and was a mere secular official. In two short inscriptions published by Leon Heuzey, one reads: "Sharganisharali, the mighty king of Agade, Lugalushumgal, patesi of Shirpula, is thy servant." The other reads: "Naram-Sin the mighty god of Agade, king of the four regions, Lugalushumgal, the scribe, patesi of Shirpurla, is thy servant." Lugalushumgal was, therefore, scribe under both kings.

From about 2150, Lagash was again prominent, especially under its pious governor Gudea, whose features are well known from numerous statues of him excavated in Lagash. Lagash prospered most brilliantly under Gudea (r 2144-2124 BC), who apparently inaugurated a new reign that enfolded within its borders the sway of all southeastern Babylonia, including also Elam. Gudea, who reigned as patesi without assuming the title of king, may have been a governor rather than an independent king and was nominally subject to the Guti, a warlike people who controlled much of Babylonia from about 2230 to about 2130. Under both his rule and the rule of his son Ur-Ningirsu, the city of Lagash had flourished. Gudea built and restored many of the Sumerian temples. In these tasks, he devoted a great deal of energy and wealth. His numerous inscriptions tell us of his world-wide commercial activity, though his political power may not have included more than Elam outside of Babylonian territory. The power of the patesis of Lagash stretched over some time, and was a distinct force in the civilization of lower Babylonia.

It is difficult to believe that Lagash in his time recognized the suzerainty of any other city. Gudea, indeed, never uses the title of king and always calls himself simply patesi; but he never alludes to any other king as his sovereign, he conquered Anshan, and sent out expeditions to Syria and Arabia to secure wood and diorite, and may have prided himself upon his patesi title, designating him as priest king of the god Ningirsu, as some of the earlier Assyrian kings did, who called themselves simply isakku of Asur (Assyria).

Among the most remarkable monuments found at Lagash are nine diorite statues of a ruler, Gudea, who, although he still retains the title of patesi, appears to have been entirely independent. Inscriptions in large numbers on the statues in question, on two large clay barrels and on votive objects confirm the power wielded by Gudea, whose emissaries are sent to the north and south to obtain wood and stone for his buildings and works of art with which he embellishes his seat of residence. He does not, indeed, lay claim to the control of lands outside of his district, but it is significant that he has access to them. The only war in which he engages is a conflict against Elam which ends in victory and a large booty for Gudea. This booty is promptly dedicated to his god, Ningirsu, and deposited in the temple, E-Ninnu, at Lagash, to the enlargement of which he devoted his chief energy.

Gudea's date can be approximately fixed at c. 2450 BC. With him Lagash rises to new splendor, though the way is paved in a measure by his predecessor, Ur-Bau, from whose reign there are a number of monuments testifying to the growing power of the district ruled by Ur-Bau while still owing nominal allegiance to Akkad. Whether Uruk at the time that it became the heir of Akkad succeeded in securing control of Lagash is uncertain, but with the coming of an invasion from the north, the glory of Lagash vanished again as suddenly as it reached its climax under Gudea.

Gudea, the noted ruler of the Babylonian Lagash, in restoring the temple of Ningirsu, "brought from Amanus, mountain of cedar, cedar wood whereof the length was 60 cubits," as well as "great cut stones from Umanu . . . mountain of Amorites." The inhabitants of Lagash believed in many gods and goddesses. Temples were built in dedication to a god or goddess. Each deity served a different purpose. For example, the goddess Geshtinanna was not only a divine poet, but also the goddess of dreams. Gudea had a "personal god" who represented natural vitality. The name of the god was Ningizzida. These rituals and beliefs do not exist today. At the time, they served an important role in the structure of the city and its culture. The artifacts that were found at Lagash related to individual deities. Gudea would often dedicate a work, such as a statue, to a god. It would then be placed in a shrine or temple. The Sumerian inhabitants were responsible for inventing a system of writing. It is called the cuneiform (wedge-shaped.) Script was impressed into clay tablets, or stele. In Lagash, cuneiform writing is found in temples and in sculpture.

In Gudea's palace several statues and works in relief have been found. The statues of Gudea give the best idea of the Sumerian type. Some of the statues of Gudea are in the British Museum; others are in America. The statues are of dark, almost black, diorite, a very hard and durable stone, which must have been expensive in Babylonia, as it had to be imported from a distance. With one exception, the statues of Gudea are headless, but several heads were found. All but two of the statues are under life size. There are two types, one standing, the other seated. Some of the heads are bare and shaven, others are covered with a cap which has some resemblance to a turban. The clothing is a heavy cloak, so arranged as to leave the right arm and shoulder bare and to fall stiffly to the ankles. In these statues, as in Babylonian and Assyrian sculpture generally, inscriptions are introduced without regard to the artistic effect. The postures are stiffly conventional, the feet are ill formed, the clasped hands, though wrought with exquisite care in detail, are imperfectly shaped, with excessively long, curved fingers, the necks are too short, even though the Sumerians were a short-necked race. Yet with all their defects, these statues are dignified and impressive. The mouths and eyes are excellent and natural, the cheeks and chins are well modelled. There is a sound realism, especially in the heads, which makes the statues of Gudea take rank with the best works of Babylonian sculpture. On the lap of the_ statue there is a plan of a building, designed in exact proportions, revealing the standard of measurements current in Gudea's day.

Relief work of the time of Gudea exhibits the qualities which the statues would lead one to expect. Details are conscientiously wrought, but perspective is incorrect, attitudes are, on the whole, stiff and conventional, the eyes of heads in profile are likely to be made as if seen from the front, and yet there is a degree of truth to nature which gives real aesthetic value to these compositions.

After Gudea's death, the city of Lagash was ruled by his son. There were influences from the surrounding areas of Mesopotamia. Metalworking became popular, while sculpture in stone continued. Figures in stele and statues began to resemble Egyptian figures. Lagash had taken a different turn. Lagash was weak against its external enemies, and like numerous other cultures and cities, it collapsed. Nammahani [r 2049-2046 BC], the grandson of Kaku, was defeated by Ur-Namma.

Babylonians began to rise and flourish. After this, there were centuries of power struggles among Lagash and its surrounding areas (including Sumer and Akkad). It ended when the Assyrians from northern Mesopotamia became extremely powerful and began to conquer the neighboring regions at about 1400 to 1000 BC.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:48:38 ZULU