Ur in Mesopotamia

Amanda Ferguson, Christopher Sailus
  • Author
    Amanda Ferguson

    Amanda has taught middle and high school social studies subjects for several years. She has a Master of Arts in Teaching degree, with specialization in Secondary Social Studies Education, as well as a Bachelor's in Psychology.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Sailus

    Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

Learn about the ancient city of Ur in Mesopotamia. Explore its origins, growth, and downfall. Discover the cultural achievements and see a map of the location of Ur. Updated: 01/24/2022

The City of Ur in Mesopotamia: Overview

Ur was an important ancient city of Sumer in Mesopotamia that lasted from around 3,800 B.C.E. through 450-500 B.C.E. However, archaeologists believe the area was first settled circa 5000 B.C.E. as a small port city. Ur was important because it was a large and highly developed society for the period, and it once served as the capital of the southern region of Mesopotamia. The city enjoyed great wealth at the time, and it played a key role in trade for the overall region.

Heydays

The old saying 'every dog has its day' is as true for cities as it is for people. For Detroit and Pittsburgh, that day was the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, when cars and steel dictated the American economy, while younger cities like Dallas and San Francisco are still experiencing the height of their own prosperity.

For the ancient city of Ur, of which only the foundations of great ziggurats and palaces remain, that golden period lay far, far in humankind's past.

Where is the City of Ur?

Ur's location was in the Mesopotamian region of Sumer, in present-day Iraq. Ur Mesopotamia was located along the banks of the Euphrates River area during its time. The river's flow has moved a bit since. The change of the river's path led a once fertile region to turn into a less-hospitable desert region. Ur was a key port city along the Persian Gulf, which most likely began as a small settlement.

Mesopotamia: Definition

What is the Mesopotamia definition? As previously mentioned, Ur was located in the ancient region of Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia translates to "land between two rivers," the Tigris and Euphrates. The region was located in southwest Asia between the two rivers mentioned above in modern-day Iraq. Mesopotamia is also known as the main part of the "fertile crescent" region, or "cradle of civilization," because it was located along with the fertile river valley areas and gave birth to various ancient societies. The "Mesopotamia" region was bordered by the Persian Gulf, Zagros Mountains, Syrian Desert, and the Arabian Desert.


Locations of Mesopotamian city-states

Map showing Mesopotamian city-state locations, city of Ur



Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt circa 1450 B.C.E.

Map depiction of Ur Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt circa 1450 B.C.E.


Ur Civilization: Development and History

The history of Mesopotamia, Sumer, and consequently Ur, is often divided into various dynastic periods for classification purposes. The Sumerian civilization of Mesopotamia is thought to date back to at least 5,000 B.C.E.

Some key periods for Sumer, and Ur, also include:

  • 5,000-4,100 B.C.E.: Ubaid Period
  • 4,100- 2,900 B.C.E.: Uruk Period; first cities in Mesopotamia
  • circa 4,000 B.C.E.: Ur developed into a settlement
  • 2,900- 2,334 B.C.E.: Early Dynastic Period
  • 2,334- 2,218 B.C.E.: Akkadian Empire rules over Sumer
  • 2,218- 2,047 B.C.E.: Gutian Period
  • 2,083- 2,050 B.C.E.: Mesopotamia's Dark Age
  • 2,047- 1,750 B.C.E.: Third Dynasty of Ur; also known as the "Sumerian Renaissance" or Ur III Period of Sumer
  • 2,000- 1,600 B.C.E.: Mesopotamian Amorite Period
  • 1,755 B.C.E.: Hammurabi rules over Mesopotamia
  • 1,750 B.C.E.: Ur conquered by Elam; Sumerian civilization ended via Elamite invasion and migration by Amorites
  • 1,000 B.C.E.: Ur conquered by the Chaldeans
  • Circa 500 B.C.E.: Ur no longer inhabited due to destruction, conquering, and famine

The Ancient City of Ur: Origins

The initial settlement for the ancient city of Ur is thought to have originated circa 3,800 B.C.E. This settlement was along the banks of the Euphrates River, which has since altered its course a bit. The early inhabitants of Ur are believed to have come from northern parts of Mesopotamia. During the Early Dynastic period, Ur became southern Mesopotamia's capital city and grew in prominence under the direction of Sumerian kings.

The Ancient City of Ur: Growth and Influence

The Bronze Age lasted from around 3,300-1,200 B.C.E. and was marked by human use of metalworking instead of earlier stone or wooden tools. Sumerian civilization is thought to have been the first to harness in the Bronze Age. In the Mesopotamian region, ancient humans may have started metalworking many years ahead of the common Bronze Age start date. The Sumerian city-state of Ur and other prominent Mesopotamian cities heavily influenced and thrived in trade during the Bronze Age. The city reached its height of influence and prominence during the Third Dynasty, which lasted from 2,047- 1,750 B.C.E. During the time mentioned above period, the city of Ur enjoyed great wealth, architectural accomplishments, social reforms, and cultural achievements; the period would later be coined the "Sumerian Renaissance." The kings of the Third Dynasty encouraged arts, technology, and various building and cultural pursuits, leading to strong growth by the city and its people. Ur was also the capital city of Sumer at this particular time. Ur-Nammu and his son Shulgi of Ur are considered two of the best kings of the time, as they played a significant role in the growth of Ur and Sumer.

The Ancient City of Ur: Downfall

By the coming of the Iron Age, many of the formerly grand ancient societies of Mesopotamia vanished, were conquered or were in decline. Ur III's decline came about via various issues culminating in the city's near abandonment by 500 B.C.E. Ur faced famine, siege by Elam, and then the Amorites, and Chaldean groups, leading to the merging of cultures and decline of the Sumerian culture. In addition, Ur's land and resources were overused, so people began moving out of the city. Thus, a series of misfortunes ultimately led to the downfall of Ur and Sumer.

The City of Ur: Architecture and Cultural Achievements

The civilization of Ur produced many architectural and cultural achievements during its time.

Some of Ur's achievements include:

  • Code of Ur Nammu- oldest known legal code globally; written circa 2,100-2,050 B.C.E.
  • Great Ziggurat of Ur building
  • Royal Tombs- included grand treasures and wealth from various locations
  • Thousands of cuneiform texts- evidence of complex society and systems
  • Complex irrigation and water management systems
  • Largest city in the world circa 2,030- 1,980 B.C.E.
  • Standard of Ur wooden box artifact- revealed images and insight into society

History of Ur

The ruins of Ur reside in southern Iraq, along the ancient banks of the Euphrates River (the current river flows along a different path than it did centuries ago). Though evidence suggests there was some settlement in the area as early as the sixth millennium B.C., the earliest textual evidence of an urban city at Ur dates to about 3800 B.C.

Throughout its history, Ur vacillated between periods of self-rule under its own kings and subjugation by invading powers. For example, powerful ancient empires and civilizations such as the Akkadians and the Gutians all ruled over Ur in their own time. Ur continued to grow as an urban center under various political establishments, with historians now believing the city was at its greatest strength during the Third Dynasty of Ur, from about 2050 to 1940 B.C. During this dynasty, the emperor Shulgi solidified Ur as a powerful city-state in the region, and the first emperor, Ur-Nammu, enacted one of the oldest surviving law codes - predating Hammurabi's Code by nearly 300 years!

Around 1940 B.C., the Third Dynasty of Ur collapsed and Ur fell under control of the Elamite Empire from the west (modern-day Iran). Despite the subjugation, Ur continued to thrive for several hundred years, likely until at least the mid-18th century B.C. Some historians have even estimated Ur was the most populous city in the world at this time, although these approximations are rough.

The city continued to persevere as a commercial and cultural hub throughout ancient history, largely due to its position on the southern Euphrates River. The city slowly declined due to numerous factors during the first half of the first millennium B.C., and historians estimate that by 500 B.C., the city was no longer inhabited.

Great Ziggurat of Ur

the Ziggurat of Ur today, partially rebuilt
the Ziggurat of Ur today, partially rebuilt

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Additional Info

Heydays

The old saying 'every dog has its day' is as true for cities as it is for people. For Detroit and Pittsburgh, that day was the heyday of the Industrial Revolution, when cars and steel dictated the American economy, while younger cities like Dallas and San Francisco are still experiencing the height of their own prosperity.

For the ancient city of Ur, of which only the foundations of great ziggurats and palaces remain, that golden period lay far, far in humankind's past.

History of Ur

The ruins of Ur reside in southern Iraq, along the ancient banks of the Euphrates River (the current river flows along a different path than it did centuries ago). Though evidence suggests there was some settlement in the area as early as the sixth millennium B.C., the earliest textual evidence of an urban city at Ur dates to about 3800 B.C.

Throughout its history, Ur vacillated between periods of self-rule under its own kings and subjugation by invading powers. For example, powerful ancient empires and civilizations such as the Akkadians and the Gutians all ruled over Ur in their own time. Ur continued to grow as an urban center under various political establishments, with historians now believing the city was at its greatest strength during the Third Dynasty of Ur, from about 2050 to 1940 B.C. During this dynasty, the emperor Shulgi solidified Ur as a powerful city-state in the region, and the first emperor, Ur-Nammu, enacted one of the oldest surviving law codes - predating Hammurabi's Code by nearly 300 years!

Around 1940 B.C., the Third Dynasty of Ur collapsed and Ur fell under control of the Elamite Empire from the west (modern-day Iran). Despite the subjugation, Ur continued to thrive for several hundred years, likely until at least the mid-18th century B.C. Some historians have even estimated Ur was the most populous city in the world at this time, although these approximations are rough.

The city continued to persevere as a commercial and cultural hub throughout ancient history, largely due to its position on the southern Euphrates River. The city slowly declined due to numerous factors during the first half of the first millennium B.C., and historians estimate that by 500 B.C., the city was no longer inhabited.

Great Ziggurat of Ur

the Ziggurat of Ur today, partially rebuilt
the Ziggurat of Ur today, partially rebuilt

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is the biblical city of Ur?

The biblical city of Ur is believed to be located in northern Mesopotamia. The area is called "Urfa" and exists in modern-day Turkey.

Why is the city of Ur important?

The city of Ur is important because it was once the largest city in the ancient world. Ur achieved much in the ways of writing, societal organization, water management, trade, law-making, architecture, and more.

What happened to Ur in Mesopotamia?

Ur faced many issues that led to its eventual decline as a society. They endured famine, overuse of lands and resources, and outside invaders/threats.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account