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First historical personalities


The specifically political events in Mesopotamia after the flourishing of the archaic culture of Uruk cannot be inpointed. Not until about 2700 BC does the first historical personality appear--historical because his name, Enmebaragesi (Me-baragesi), was preserved in later tradition. It has been assumed, although the exact circumstances cannot be reconstructed, that there was a rather abrupt end to the high culture of Uruk Level IV. The reason for the assumption is a marked break in both artistic and architectural traditions: entirely new styles of cylinder seals were introduced; the great temples (if in fact they were temples) were abandoned, flouting the rule of a continuous tradition on religious sites, and on a new site a shrine was built on a terrace, which was to constitute the lowest stage of the later Eanna ziggurat. On the other hand, since the writing system developed organically and was continually refined by innovations and progressive reforms, it would be overhasty to assume a revolutionary change in the population.

In the quarter or third of a millennium between Uruk Level IV and Enmebaragesi, southern Mesopotamia became studded with a complex pattern of cities, many of which were the centres of small independent city-states, to judge from the situation in about the middle of the millennium. In these cities, the central point was the temple, sometimes encircled by an oval boundary wall (hence the term temple oval); but nonreligious buildings, such as palaces serving as the residences of the rulers, could also function as centres.

Enmebaragesi, king of Kish, is the oldest Mesopotamian ruler from whom there are authentic inscriptions. These are vase fragments, one of them found in the temple oval of Khafajah (Khafaji). In the Sumerian king list, Enmebaragesi is listed as the penultimate king of the 1st dynasty of Kish; a Sumerian poem, "Gilgamesh and Agga of Kish," describes the siege of Uruk by Agga, son of Enmebaragesi. The discovery of the original vase inscriptions was of great significance because it enabled scholars to ask with somewhat more justification whether Gilgamesh, the heroic figure of Mesopotamia who has entered world literature, was actually a historical personage. The indirect synchronism notwithstanding, the possibility exists that even remote antiquity knew its "Ninus" and its "Semiramis," figures onto which a rapidly fading historical memory projected all manner of deeds and adventures. Thus, though the historical tradition of the early 2nd millennium believes Gilgamesh to have been the builder of the oldest city wall of Uruk, such may not have been the case. The palace archives of Shuruppak (modern Tall Fa'rah, 125 miles southeast of Baghdad), dating presumably from shortly after 2600, contain a long list of divinities, including Gilgamesh and his father Lugalbanda. More recent tradition, on the other hand, knows Gilgamesh as judge of the nether world. However that may be, an armed conflict between two Mesopotamian cities such as Uruk and Kish would hardly have been unusual in a country whose energies were consumed, almost without interruption from 2500 to 1500 BC, by clashes between various separatist forces. The great "empires," after all, formed the exception, not the rule.


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