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Royal Family


Our failure to establish, beyond doubt, a genealogy for the royal family of the Ur III state remains puzzling. Several elite provincial clans, such as the Umma or the Nippur ruling families, are very well known. Very few texts, however, provide any clues as to the genealogy of the royal family; princes are referred to as "son of the king" only. Neither the third ruler (Amar-Suen), nor the fifth (Ibbi-Suen) is ever mentioned before he became king. Most contemporary references to members of the royal family relate to the office rather than the person. Sources from later periods of Mesopotamian history cannot readily be used to verify the familial relations of the Ur III kings. Family relations and hereditary patterns are very specific to each distinct social or ethnic group. Further, since hereditary patterns are often used to justify and legitimize the rule of a dynasty they are also often projected back in time. It seems likely that the hereditary system most widely adhered to in third millennium BC Mesopotamia was that of seniority. According to this system any senior male member of a family will presume that he has a position in the line of succession corresponding to his age, however, in such a system it is not impossible that a strong ruler will be able to favor his own male progeny and establish temporary primogeniture. Some evidence points to the existence of fraternal, or lateral, succession within the royal family during the Ur III period. Fraternal succession is rather common in other important families from the same period (when seniority has been restricted to one branch of a family, and cadet branches have been excluded from succession, we often see a line of brothers, following each other in seniority, taking over the throne; this pattern can be called 'restricted seniority', 'lateral succession', or 'fraternal succession').

Three questions

Succession in the royal family of the Ur III period can best be understood when we are able to answer the following three questions: 1. Were Utu-Hegal and Ur-Nammu brothers? 2. Was Abi-Simti the wife of Šulgi or Amar-Suen? 3. Who was the father of Ibbi-Sin?

Provisional answers

1. Only one historical inscription (= Utu-Hegal 6) hints at the familial relationship of Utu-Hegal (founder, and sole member of the Fourth Uruk Dynasty), and Ur-Nammu (founder, of the 3rd Ur Dynasty). C. Wilcke, "Zum Königtum in der Ur III-Zeit," in P. Garelli, ed., Le palais et la royauté (=CRRAI 19: Paris 1974) 177-232, argued for a reconstruction of the last line of that text to read: ´šeš`-[a-ne2], whereby Utu-Hegal and Ur-Nammu become brothers. The fact that Ur-Nammu was Utu-Hegal's army-commander (Sumerian šagina) stationed in Ur, does not prove their familial relationship, since later Ur III generals were recruited from both within the royal family and from among important allies. 2. No conclusive evidence exists favoring either Šulgi or Amar-Suen as the husband of Abi-Simti. She is called queen (Sumerian nin) in a text dating to the final year of the reign of Amar-Suen (UTI 3, 2003 [from AS 9]) as well as in texts from throughout the reign of Šu-Suen (e.g., MVN 16, 713 [from ŠS 4], and MVN 16, 916 [from ŠS 3]), whereas she is not mentioned during Šulgi's reign (Abi-Simti is the only person with the title queen during Šu-Suen's reign, suggesting that she was indeed his mother (nin used as an honorary title "empress dowager"); she is mentioned without title during the reign of Amar-Suen, save for the single text cited above). D. Frayne claimed in RIME 3/2, pp. 285 - 286, that Abi-Simti was the wife of Amar-Suen, based in part on an Old Babylonian copy of the seal of Babati the brother of Abi-Simti (RIME 3/ The original Ur III inscription of that same seal (RIME 3/ can be used only to prove that Abi-Simti was the mother of Šu-Suen (see PDT 2, 1200 (from ŠS 7/i-7/iii) which fills the lacuna in the first line of RIME 3/ The Old Babylonian copy, which substitutes ama (the Sumerian word for "mother") with dam ("wife"), also names Šu-Suen as the benefactor of the dedication. The original Ur III inscription can thus not be used to determine whose wife she was. Recently, D. Owen published a text with the interesting personal name dŠu-dSuen-walid-dŠulgi ("Šu-Suen born of Šulgi"), which he argues might be the full name of Šu-Suen (NABU 2001/17). No other contemporary evidence links Šu-Suen with either Šulgi or Amar-Suen (the name of the son of Šulgi in the seal inscription on BRM 3, 52 reads šu-dEN.[ ], not necessarily Šu-Suen, but just as likely Šu-Enlil another known son of Šulgi, see already J. Boese and W. Sallaberger, AoF 23 [1996] p. xx). 3. Nothing is known about the father of Ibbi-Suen. Here we will follow RIME 3/2 and claim that persons called 'son of the king' during the reign of Šulgi were sons of Šulgi, and persons who were called 'son of the king' exclusively from the beginning of the reign of Amar-Suen were sons of Amar-Suen. This leaves us with a genealogy in which Šu-Suen and Ibbi-Suen are left without any male progeny. However, this remains a topic for further prosopographic and anthropological studies.

Royal Family of Ur III

J. Dahl


For an study of the succession of power see:

  • R. Burling, The Passage of Power, Studies in Political Succession (New York and London 1974).

For the historical inscriptions of the Ur III period see:

  • D. Frayne, Ur III period (2112-2004 BC) (=RIME 3/2: Toronto 1997).

Important monographs on Ur III history:

  • W. Sallaberger, "Ur III-Zeit," in W. Sallaberger A. Westenholz, eds., Mesopotamien: Akkade-Zeit und Ur III Zeit (=OBO 160/3: Freiburg, Switzerland, 1999).
  • E. Flückiger-Hawker, Urnamma of Ur in Sumerian Literary Tradition, (=OBO 166: Freiburg, Switzerland, 1999).
  • M. Sigrist, Drehem, (Bethesda, MD, 1992).

Selected shorter studies on specific topics:

  • A. Goetze, "The Shakkanakkus of the Ur III Empire," JCS 27 (1963) 1 - 31.
  • T. Maeda, "The Defense Zone During the Rule of the Ur III Dynasty," ASJ 14 (1992) 135-172.
  • P. Michalowski, "Charisma and Control: On Continuity and Change in Early Mesopotamian Bureaucratic Systems," in: Mc. Gibson R. D. Biggs, eds., The Organization of Power. Aspects of Bureaucracy in the Ancient Near East (=SAOC 46: Chicago 1991) 45-47.
  • P. Steinkeller, "The Administration and Economic Organization of the Ur III State: The Core and the Periphery," in: Mc. Gibson R. D. Biggs, eds., The Organization of Power. Aspects of Bureaucracy in the Ancient Near East (=SAOC 46: Chicago 1991) 15 - 33.
  • C. Wilcke, "Zum Königtum in der Ur III-Zeit," in P. Garelli ed., Le palais et la royauté (=CRRAI 19; Paris 1974) 177-232.
  • C. Wilcke, "Neue Quellen aus Isin zur Geschichte der Ur III-Zeit und der I. Dynastie von Isin," OrNS 54 (1985) 299-318.
  • C. Wilcke, "Die sumerische Königsliste und erzählte Vergangenheit," in J. Von Ungern-Sternberg, ed., Vergangenheit in mündlicher Überlieferung (Stuttgart 1988) 113-140.
  • C. Wilcke, "Politische Opposition nach Sumerischen Quellen: Der Konflickt Zwischen Königtum und Ratsversamlung. Literaturwerke als Politische Tendenzschriften," in La Voix de L'Opposition En Mesopotamie (Colloque organisé par l'Institut des Hautes Etudes de Belgique 19 et 20 mars 1973).

Studies devoted to the life and death of individual kings:

  • A. Falkenstein, "Ibbisîn - Ishbi'erra," ZA 49 (1950) 59-79.
  • W. Horowitz and P. J. Watson, "The Ascent of Shulgi and the Death of Shulgi," ASJ 13 (1991) 411-413.
  • Th. Jacobsen, "The Reign of Ibbisin," JCS 7 (1953) 36-47.
  • S. Kramer, "The Death of Ur-Nammu and his Descent to the Netherworld," JCS 21 (1967) 104-122.
  • S. Kramer, "The Death of Ur-Nammu", in: Near Eastern Studies Dedicated to H.I.H. Prince Takahito Mikasa on the Occasion of His Seventy-Fifth Birthday (1991) 193-214
  • P. Michalowski, "Amar-Su'ena and the Historical Tradition," in: M. de J. Ellis, ed., EANEF, (Fs. Finkelstein: Hamden 1977), 155-157.
  • P. Michalowski, "Foreign Tribute to Sumer During the Ur III Period," ZA 68, 1978, 34-49.
  • P. Michalowski, "Durum and Uruk during the Ur III Period," Mesopotamia xii (1977), 83 - 96.
  • P. Michalowski, "The Death of Shulgi," OrNS 46 (1977).
  • H. Waetzoldt, "Änderung von Siegellegenden als Reflex der 'großen Politik'," Fs. Boehmer (1995) 659 - 663.

For the provincial families see for example: Nippur:

  • W. Hallo, "The House of Ur-Meme," JNES 31 (1972) 87-95.
  • R.L. Zettler, "The Genealogy of the House of Ur-Me-me: a Second Look," AfO 31 (1984) 1-9.


  • T. Maeda, "Father of Akalla and Dadaga, Governors of Umma," ASJ 12 (1990) 71-78.
  • T. Maeda, "Ruler's Family of Umma and Control over the Circulation of Silver," ASJ 18 (1996) 254-260.
  • D. McGuiness,"The Family of Giri-Zal," RA 76 (1982) 17-25.
  • F. Pomponio, "Lukalla of Umma," ZA 82 (1992) 169-179.
  • W. Yuhong, "High-ranking "Scribes" and Intellectual Governors during the Akkadian and Ur III Periods," JAC 10 (1995) 127-145.


  • K. Maekawa, "The Governor's family and the 'temple households' in Ur III Girsu," in K. Veenhof, ed., Houses and Households in Ancient Mesopotamia (=CRRAI 40; Leiden 1996) 171-179.


  • D.I. Owen, "The Ensis of Gudua," ASJ 15 (1993) 131-152.

The Periphery:

  • W. Hallo, "Zariqum," JNES 15 (1956) 220-225.

For the royal women see in particular:

  • J. Boese & W. Sallaberger, "Apil-Kin von Mari und die Könige der III. Dynastie von Ur," AoF 23 (1996) 24-39.
  • J. Klein, "Shelepputum a Hitherto Unknown Ur III Princess," ZA 80 (1990) 20-39.
  • P. Michalowski, "The Bride of Simanum," JAOS 95 (1975) 716-719.
  • P. Michalowski, "Royal Women of the Ur III Period, 1, The Wife of Shulgi," JCS 28 (1976,) 169-172.
  • P. Michalowski, "Royal Women of the Ur III Period, 2, Geme-Ninlila," JCS 31 (1979) 171-176.
  • P. Michalowski, "Royal Women of the Ur III Period, 3," ASJ 4 (1982) 129-142.
  • P. Steinkeller, "More on the Royal Wives," ASJ 3 (1981) 7-92
  • M. Sigrist, "Kubatum," RA 80 (1986) 185.
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