Ur, (ūr), ancient city of Sumer, S Mesopotamia. The city is also known as Ur of the Chaldees. It was an important center of an Indian and Sumerian trade culture and is identified in the Bible as the home of Abraham.


The site was discovered in the 19th century, but it was not until the excavations of C. Leonard Woolley in the 1920s and 30s that a partial account of its history could be constructed.


Remains found at the site seem to indicate that Ur existed as far back as the late Al Ubaid period (@5900 – 4300 BCE) and that the city was an important commercial center even before the first dynasty was established (c.2500 BCE).


Among the most important remains of the first dynasty, which has revealed a luxurious material culture, are the royal cemetery, where the standard of Ur was found, and the Temple of Ninhursag at Ubaid, bearing the inscriptions of the kings of the first dynasty.


Ur was captured c.2340 BCE by Sargon, and this era, called the Akkadian period, marks an important step in the blending of Sumerian and Semitic cultures.


After this dynasty came a long period of which practically nothing is known except that a second dynasty rose and fell.


The third dynasty was established c.2060 BCE under King Ur-Nammu who built the great ziggurat that has stood, although crumbled and covered with sand, throughout the centuries.



Artistic depiction of the original Ziggurat at Ur


Artistic depiction of the Ziggurat of Ur after rebuilding by Nabonidus


A picture of the Ziggurat at Ur today


The third dynasty of Ur fell (c.1950 BCE) to the Elamites and later to Babylon. The city was destroyed and rebuilt throughout the years by various kings and conquerors, including Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus @ 6oo BCE.


About the middle of the 6th century BCE, Ur went into a decline from which it never recovered. A record dated 324 BCE mentions it as being inhabited by Arabs, but by that time its existence as a great city was forgotten. The change in the course of the Euphrates, which had been the source of the city's wealth, probably contributed to the final decline of Ur. Ur is mentioned often in the Bible (Gen. 11.28,31; 15.7; Neh. 9.7) and was at one period known to the Arabs as Tall al-Muqayyar – meaning “mound of pitch”.


Ur-Nammu’s Law Code





The Ur-Nammu law code is the oldest known, written about 300 to 500 years before Hammurabi's law code.


When first found in 1901, the laws of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BCE) were heralded as the earliest known laws.


Now older collections are known: The laws of the town Eshnunna (ca. 1800 BC), the laws of King Lipit-Ishtar of Isin (ca. 1930 BCE), and Old Babylonian copies (ca. 1900-1700 BCE) of the Ur-Nammu law code, with 26 laws of the 57 decipherable. This cylinder is the first copy found that originally had the whole text of the code, and it is the world's oldest law code. Further it actually mentions the name of Ur-Nammu for the first time.

Hammurabi's laws represented the inhuman Law of Retaliation, "an Eye for an Eye". One would expect the older laws of Ur-Nammu would be even more brutal, but the opposite is the case: "If a man knocks out the eye of another man, he shall weigh out 1/2 a mina of silver".


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