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The Destruction of the Sumerians

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Royal Standard of Ur - detail
Detail from the Royal Standard of Ur - the war panel

There was constant conflict between the city-states and threat of invasion from the north. Around 2340 BC the Akkadians, a Semitic people in the north overran the Sumerian city states and brought them under one rule, the first known empire. However, it didn't last long. The Akkadian Empire was destroyed by raids from neighboring hill peoples by 2100 BC. The Sumerian civilization collapsed bringing on a dark age. It wasn't until 1792 BC that a new power came to control much of Mesopotamia, the Babylonians, through their king Hammurabi.

Laments for Ur 1 & II, ancient Sumerian poems, tell the story of the destruction of the city. The poems were inscribed on clay tablets in cuneiform script, the earliest form of writing.

He [Enlil] called the storm that annihilates
the land.
The people mourn.
He called disastrous winds.
The people mourn.

[Great] fires he lit that heralded the storm
And lit on either flank of furious winds
the searing heat of the desert.
Like flaming heat of noon, this fire scorched.

The storm ordered by . . . in hate,
the storm which wears away the country,
Covered Ur like a cloth, veiled it like a linen sheet.

On that day did the storm leave the city;
that city was a ruin. . .
The people mourn.
Dead men, not potsherds littered the approaches,
The walls were gaping;
the high gates, the road, were piled with dead.
In the side streets, where feasting crowds
would gather,
Scattered, they lay.

In all the streets and roadways, bodies lay.
In open fields that used to fill with dancers,
they lay in heaps.
The country’s blood now filled its holes,
like metal in a mold;
Bodies dissolved - like fat left in the sun.

II

When they overthrew, when order
they destroyed
Then like a deluge all things together,
the enemy consumed.

Whereunto, Oh Sumer! Did they change
thee?
They demolished the city,
they demolished the temple,
They seized the rulership of the land.


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