URUK
(modern WARKA)
   Important Mesopotamian city in the southern plains, situated along the old course of the Euphrates. The site was first excavated by William Loftus in 1853–1855 and has been excavated almost continuously by German teams of archaeologists since the late 19th century. These campaigns continued until 2003, when the United States–led coalition invaded Iraq. Only about a fifth of the vast ruin field has been explored in depth. Uruk was occupied from the late fifth millennium B.C. until the Muslim conquests in the seventh century A.D. During the fourth millennium B.C., Uruk encompassed two settlements, each with a distinct series of habitation. In the historical period, they were associated with Inanna (the site of the Eanna temple) and Anu (also known in antiquity as Kullab). Uruk experienced rapid growth in the mid-fourth millennium that lasted until c. 3000 B.C. Huge architectural monuments were put up in rapid succession and were built in a variety of techniques. The wall surfaces were decorated with characteristic patterns, often made from clay cones embedded in plaster. These structures, which have been designated as “temples,” show a concern for symmetry and monumentality.
   During this period, known as the Uruk period, writing on clay tablets was invented to deal with a complex system of distribution and exchange that linked southern Mesopotamia to southern and western Iran, Upper Mesopotamia, and southeast Anatolia. Uruk was at this time the only large urban center, and it may have been the hub of the administration of the Uruk network, if not the actual capital of a “pristine” state, as has been suggested. By c. 3100, this system disintegrated, and there was upheaval at Uruk, as various large buildings were demolished. In the Early Dynastic period when the process of urbanization had spread across southern Mesopotamia, Uruk became the seat of several dynasties. At that time it became surrounded by a huge wall of some 10 kilometers in length that was attributed to Gilgamesh, who is listed as a king of the first Uruk dynasty in the Sumerian King List.
   By the mid-third millennium, Lugalzagesihad assumed the throne of Uruk and conquered all the Sumeriancity-states. He was defeated by Sargon of Akkad. However, building at the sacred precincts of Inanna and Anu continued under the Akkad kings and during the Third Dynasty of Ur, whose rulers claimed a special affinity with the ancient city.
   After the fall of the Urstate, Uruk went into decline, although the Kassites initiated some rebuilding at the Ishtar temple (see KARAINDASH; KURIGALZU I). The city revived in the first millennium, when the newly refurbished and enlarged temples controlled vast agricultural areas of production. The intense economic activities at Uruk continued well into the Seleucid and early Parthian periods. Important tablet collections, of administrative as well as scholarly content, date from this late period. The city fared better under the Parthians and Sassanians than other Mesopotamian cities but was finally abandoned at the time of the Arab invasion of A.D. 634.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.

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