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Emergent city-states



Kish must have played a major role almost from the beginning. After 2500, southern Babylonian rulers, such as Mesannepada of Ur and Eannatum of Lagash, frequently called themselves king of Kish when laying claim to sovereignty over northern Babylonia. This does not agree with some recent histories in which Kish is represented as an archaic "empire." It is more likely to have figured as representative of the north, calling forth perhaps the same geographic connotation later evoked by "the land of Akkad." Although the corpus of inscriptions grows richer both in geographic distribution and in point of chronology in the 27th and increasingly so in the 26th century, it is still impossible to find the key to a plausible historical account, and history cannot be written solely on the basis of archaeological findings. Unless clarified by written documents, such findings contain as many riddles as they seem to offer solutions. This applies even to as spectacular a discovery as that of the royal tombs of Ur with their hecatombs (large-scale sacrifices) of retainers who followed their king and queen to the grave, not to mention the elaborate funerary appointments with their inventory of tombs. It is only from about 2520 to the beginnings of the dynasty of Akkad that history can be written within a framework, with the aid of reports about the city-state of Lagash and its capital of Girsu and its relations with its neighbour and rival, Umma.Sources for this are, on the one hand, an extensive corpus of inscriptions relating to nine rulers, telling of the buildings they constructed, of their institutions and wars, and, in the case of UruKAgina, of their "social" measures. On the other hand, there is the archive of some 1,200 tablets--[insofar as these have been published]--from the temple of Baba, the city goddess of Girsu, from the period of Lugalanda and UruKAgina (first half of the 24th century).

For generations, Lagash and Umma contested the possession and agricultural usufruct of the fertile region of Gu'edena. To begin with, some two generations before Ur-Nanshe, Mesilim (another "king of Kish") had intervened as arbiter and possibly overlord in dictating to both states the course of the boundary between them, but this was not effective for long. After a prolonged struggle, Eannatum forced the ruler of Umma, by having him take an involved oath to six divinities, to desist from crossing the old border, a dike. The text that relates this event, with considerable literary elaboration, is found on the Stele of Vultures. These battles, favouring now one side, now the other, continued under Eannatum's successors, in particular Entemena, until, under UruKAgina, great damage was done to the land of Lagash and to its holy places. The enemy, Lugalzagesi, was vanquished in turn by Sargon of Akkad.

The rivalry between Lagash and Umma, however, must not be considered in isolation. Other cities, too, are occasionally named as enemies, and the whole situation resembles the pattern of changing coalitions and short-lived alliances between cities of more recent times. Kish, Umma, and distant Mari on the middle Euphrates are listed together on one occasion as early as the time of Eannatum. For the most part, these battles were fought by infantry, although mention is also made of war chariots drawn by onagers (wild asses).

The lords of Lagash rarely fail to call themselves by the title of "ensi", of as yet undetermined derivation; "city ruler," or "prince," are only approximate translations. Only seldom do they call themselves lugal, or "king," the title given the rulers of Umma in their own inscriptions. In all likelihood, these were local titles that were eventually converted, beginning perhaps with the kings of Akkad, into a hierarchy in which the lugal took precedence over the ensi.


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