Early Dynastic IIIb

The Early Dynastic IIIb period, ca. 2540-2350 BCE, (abbreviated ED IIIb) is conventionally described as covering the century before the defeat of Lugalzagesi by Sargon of Akkad, the founder of the Old Akkadian empire. While the end of the ED IIIb period can, therefore, be assigned to this particular event, the beginning of the ED IIIb period is far more difficult to define.

Defining the ED IIIb period

The traditional schema outlined for the Early Dynastic period is based, above all, on a somewhat problematic assignment of major archaeological sites and text-artifactual corpora to … Bauer (1998, 431) refers to two distinct models (?) / definitions (?) of the beginning of the ED IIIb period: the theory that . . . proposed by Falkenstein and his students and the alternative model suggested by Hallo. These efforts to define the start of the period in political rather than archaeological terms may well be misguided and Van De Mieroop has recently argued that the entire Early Dynastic Period should be treated as a single organic whole from a historical perspective.

This period is often subdivided into Early Dynastic I (ca. 2900-2750), II (ca. 2750-2600), IIIa (2600-2450), and IIIb (ca. 2450-2350), but these are archaeological distinctions based on stylistic changes in the material remains that have little historical value. The period should be regarded as a unit in political terms, displaying the same basic characteristics for its entire duration (Van De Mieroop 2004, 39-40).

Urbanism and the City-State in the ED IIIb period

Van De Mieroop has suggested that there were approximately 35 urban centers "directly controlling a hinterland with a radius of some 15 kilometers" (Van De Mieroop 2004, 43) that can be defined as city-states in the ED IIIb period.

The Rulers of Lagash


The status of this first figure as the earliest known ruler of Lagash is disputed, as it is inferred from an economic text recording a sale of land by two men designated as Sidu and 'Enhegal lugal Lagash' (ELTS no. 20). In their treatment of the text, Gelb, Steinkeller and Whiting date the document to the Fara Period (ELTS pg. 70) However M.A. Powell (JCS 46, ppg. 99-104) disagrees over Enhegal’s status as ruler of the city, and further dates the text to the time of Ur-Nanshe.


The first clearly attested ruler of Lagash is Lugalshagengur, whose name is attested only in a macehead inscription of Mesalim (FAOS 05/2, Mesalim 1), the king of Kish who is known in connection with Lagash primarily through his arbitration in the protracted border war between that city-state and its neighbor Umma.


Ur-Nanshe's rule is significant as it stands at the beginning of a continuous documentary tradition illuminating the political events of the ED III period. He was likely of non-royal lineage, since in his inscriptions he refers to his father as one Gu-NI.DU without an accompanying royal title. The fact that the name does appear in offering lists from the time of the later kings Lugalanda and Uruinimgina suggests that Gu-NI.DU nevertheless held an important, possibily religious, office in Lagash (Bauer pg. 447).

Ur-Nanshe carried through a large number of building and renovation projects that have been recorded in his many royal inscriptions. These include a system of nine canals, the renovation of Nanshe's Sirara temple in Nina (or Nimin), and the renovation of Ningirsu's E-ninnu temple in Girsu. The unexpectedly wide scope of his building activity, especially of religious structures, has been taken as a sign of the hastening trend toward anthropomorphized deities whose status required a more substantial visual presence than the earlier tradition of divine emblems and totems (Bauer pg. 450). He also had wood brought from the state of Dilmun (modern Bahrain) via a special boat called the 'ma2-dilmun' for various building projects, especially temples.

Already before Ur-Nanshe a conflict between Lagash and Umma had broken out over the control of a fertile area between the two cities known as the Guedena. The historical roots of the dispute are not clear. A cone inscription of Enmetena (FAOS 05/1, Ent 28, A) frames them as a primordial issue involving the gods, where Enlil divides the Guedinna between Ningirsu and Shara, the principle gods of Lagash and Umma respectively. Regardless of its origins, by the time of Ur-Nanshe the conflict grew to the point that an outsider, Mesalim the king of Kish, was called in to arbitrate the conflict, declaring a border that divided the land and marking it with a now lost inscription. However this settlement did not keep the peace for long, at least if we are to consider a text excavated from the Bagara Temple of Girsu in the 1970's (FAOS 05/1, Urn 51), which indicates Ur-Nanshe defeated Umma in battle and captured some of its leaders as prisoners.

The king also left behind a number of plates depicting himself, members of his family, and some of his followers. These early works illustrate several important elements of Mesopotamian iconography, such as the ruler standing with hands clasped as a typical depiction of piety (FAOS 05/1, Urn 21) or holding a basket on his head to signal participation in foundational building projects (FAOS 05/1, Urn 20).


In contrary to the long and relatively well-documented reign of Ur-Nanshe, that of his son Akurgal was short and poorly known. Only six gypssum inscriptions of his have survived. One of them (FAOS 05/1, Akg 1) states that he build the Antasura of Ningirsu, while the text of the others has been destroyed. On the basis of inscriptions from his son Eanatum, however, we know that during his reign Lagash some of the Guedina to Umma.


Eanatum was the son of Akurgal, and the most militarily successful ruler of the first dynasty of Lagash. He conducted many campaigns abroad, including ones against the southern cities of Ur, Uruk, and Kiutu, as well as states further afield such as Kish, Mari, Akshak, and Susa. He even reached northeastern Subartu and the eastern regions of Elam, destroying a city called Mishime. His military campaigns were so widespread that he was able to claim the title "King of Kish", a title associated with if not always actually indicating, the unity of the Mesopotamian city-states and their submission to a single ruler.

Much information about Eanatum's deeds comes from the famous Stele of the Vultures (FAOS 05/1, Ean 01), a now fragmentary inscription that depicts in both verbally and graphically powerful ways the military exploits of the king of Lagash. One fragment shows the god Ningirsu holding a mace in his right hand while his left holds a net that has bagged a number of helpless enemy soldiers (picture?). Another section shows Eanatum leading a heavily armed phalanx of soldiers trampling slain enemy underneath. Yet another shows men piling up corpses into a giant heap, an image which is reflected in the text.

The stele also gives testament to developments in the ideology of kingship which are promoted by later Lagash rulers. Eanatum is the first Lagash king to explicitly claim divine birth by a god, in this case Ningirsu. Inheritors of the throne would go on to do likewise, as when Eanatum's son Enanatum I named the god Lugal-URU11 his father, and when Enmetena names Gatumdug his divine mother (Bauer pg. 462). Along with the divine progenitor comes a divine wet-nurse, that is, a female goddess who suckles the king to make him strong. For Eanatum this figure is the ancient goddess Ninhursag (Ean 01, IV). Other kings, down to the Neo-Assyrian period, would also make use of this motif. The stele also describes how Ningirsu visited Eanatum in a dream where he instructed him to make war on Umma. This motif surfaces again in the cylinder inscriptions of the later king Gudea, where he narrates how Ningirsu explained the plan for the (re)building of his E-ninnu temple.

Enannatum I

Enanatum I was the brother of Eanatum and another son of Akurgal. Like his predecessors he faced conflict with Umma over control of the Guedina, and like his brother, he defeated the rival state, imposing heavy fiscal penalties on it and forcing its king Enakale to swear an oath to the gods that he would respect the established boundaries. However as the Enmetena cone goes on to describe


Son of Enannatum I, Entemena was able to forge an alliance with the rulers of Uruk and Ur, who had recently combined under Lugal-Kingineshdudu, and they were able to suppress Ur-Lumma.

Enannatum II

Enannatum II was the son of Entemena and the last ruler of the dynasty of Ur-Nashe. During his reign, Il, the nephew of Ur-Lumma siezed control of the remains of the Umma city-state and defeated Lagash.


Urukagina, also written Uru-inim-gina, came to power in Lagash two generations later. Contrary to the previous rulers of Ur-Nansche's lineage, he sponsored political and religious reform intended to curtail the encroachment of the royal authority on the traditional power of the temple rulers. For his attempts at reform, that included the limiting of royal administrative powers, and his successful obtaining of lower class support, he became known as "the reformer." However, according to A. Bernard Knapp in The History and Culture of Ancient Western Asia and Egypt, the notion of widespread reform during his reign is false, and that in fact, the entire social landscape was far more radically altered through the ending of his reign, which ushered in the Sargonic era.


  • Bauer, Josef. 1998. Der Vorsargonische Abschnitt der Mesopotamischen Geschichte. In P. Attinger and M. Wäfler, eds., Mesopotamien: Späturuk-Zeit und Frühdynastische Zeit, pp. 431-585. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 160/1. Göttingen: Vendenhoeck & Ruprecht.
  • Cabrera, Victor, Federico Bernaldo De Quiros, Miquel Molist, et. al. comps. La Historia y sus Protagonistas. ArteHistoria. 10 Nov. 2005 Link.
  • Hallo, William W. and William Kelly Simpson. 1971. The Ancient Near East A History. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. pp. 46-54
  • Knapp, A. Bernard, 1988. The History and Culture of Ancient Western Asia and Egypt. Wadsworth Publishing Company. pp. 66-77
  • Powell, M.A., Review: Elusive Eden: Private Property at the Dawn of History, Journal of Cuneiform Studies 46, 1994, pp. 99-104.
  • Van De Mieroop, Marc. 2004. A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC. Blackwell Publishing. [The Early Dynastic period as a whole is dealt with in chapter 3, pp. 39-58, but since relatively is known about the periods that preceded the ED IIIb period, much of the chapter focuses on ED IIIb.]
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