Uruk – The world’s first city (2)

Posted: August 9, 2015 in Ancient Near Eastern History, History
Tags: ,
Uruk (taken from www.pandorando.it)

Uruk (taken from http://www.pandorando.it)

The start of the Uruk period can be dated to around 4100 BCE when there is a notable increase in both the number and the size of the settlements in southern and central Babylonia. At Uruk, there has been a substantial growth in the size of the settlement, which is now at over 100 hectres. There is also an apparent shift of population and settlement from the central Babylonian area to the southern area under the influence of Uruk. This change occurs around the time when the city was at its most influential during the fourth millennia BCE when Uruk was the largest urban centre in the region and its hub for trade and administration. Some estimates have put the population of the city at around 20,000 with the population of the area at this time as being in the range of 30,000 to 80,000 residents living in a 6 km² area, which if true, would certainly make it the largest city-state in the world at the time. The manner in which, and the extent to which, the city held control over the other settlements in the area is unknown. Gwendoline Leick sums this up by saying “The Uruk phenomenon is still much debated, as to the extent Uruk exercise political control over large area covered by the Uruk artefacts, whether this relied on the use of force or which institutions were in charge. Too little of the site has been excavated to provide any firm answers to these questions. However, it is clear that the urbanisation process was set in motion and concentrated at Uruk itself .’

The Uruk Vase - Men bearing gifts to the goddess Inanna (Innin), a bull and agricultural products. Limestone, around 2.900 BCE. (taken from vasekino.net)

The Uruk Vase – Men bearing gifts to the goddess Inanna (Innin), a bull and agricultural products. Limestone, around 2.900 BCE. (taken from vasekino.net)

Another problem which has baffled scholars is why Uruk? During the Uruk peak period, the city of Ur 50 miles to the south-east would have seemed a much more likely site for the growth and development of the trade hub, situated on the then shore of the Persian Gulf. Yet this did not happen. One possibility that has been suggested is the abundance in suitable agricultural land around Uruk which, coupled with the organisation of agriculture and irrigation on a larger scale enable sufficient food to be grown to support the massive increase in the city population.
Gwendoline Leick mentioned the artefacts that originated from the city. These have been found in contemporary digs from sites throughout Mesopotamia and beyond. Most characteristic of these is a bevelled-rim-bowl. This bowl was moulded and mass produced in the city and has become one of the clear indicators of the extent of the cities trade throughout Mesopotamia. One complicating factor to this is that, although most scholars agree that this bowl had its origin at Uruk, it does seem that with time local production sprang up in other places. In this case the bowl may be seen not as an indicator of tried but an indicator of the city’s influence in that it exported the idea of places.

Uruk mass produced pottery(taken from archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com)

Uruk mass produced pottery(taken from archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.com)

However not all the pottery produced was as utilitarian and a number of examples of fine decorated bowls have been discovered. Ceramic figurines such as the one of the frog have also been found in the temple area and in trading outposts. In addition to these other items which occur at this time are an abundance of cylinder and stamp seals probably associated with the identification of ownership or destination of trade goods.

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