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State of Research

Questions of the administrative structure and hierarchy of the 3rd millennium B.C. were first summarized by A. Deimel (1931), to whose earlier work the studies of A. Schneider (1920) and - modified, in line with the then current state of research - of A. Falkenstein (1953-1954: 784-814) were indebted. Starting point and object of these examinations were the documents of the pre-Sargonic archives from Girsu of the Early Dynastic IIIb period (ca. 2500-2350, of which only the final two decades were substantial numbers of administrative documents produced, and of these the great majority derive only from the household of the goddess Baba). At about the same time, N. Schneider began his systematic editing of the then available Ur III material, turning first to the documents from Puzriš-Dagan and Umma (1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1927, 1930), later also to the texts from Ur (1950). In his publications, Schneider was above all concerned with the technical terminology of the texts, with the divine and personal names and professional designations, that are of importance from the standpoint of administrative history. These studies, however, did not result in a comprehensive treatment of the administrative structure and connections of third millennium economies. The problem of administrative structure in the neo-Sumerian state was, in the following period, examined above all under the aspect of the form and function of the respective province administrations of the period. W. W. Hallo treated in his 1953 dissertation the role and function of the province rulers (ensi2) in the Ur III period, while A. Goetze systematically examined references for the so-called generals (šagina) (1963: 1-31). With the gathering of the available reference material, the field had the possibility to more precisely understand the structures and hierarchies and to reconstruct the functioning of the principles of state organization using concrete material. In this connection, the works of I. M. Diakonoff and I. J. Gelb dealing with problems of the social structure of ancient Mesopotamia are important. In occasionally controversial discussions, both made essential contributions by injecting into the scientific dialectic of the social structure of Mesopotamia at the end of the 3rd millennium the problematic of the connections among state administration, ownership, social differentiation and economic organization (see for instance Diakonoff 1972: 41-52, 1974: 45-78, 1982: 7-100; I. J. Gelb 1969: 137-154, 1979a: 1-97, 1979b: 283-297). The concrete results of their research are difficult to judge. On the one hand, their art of representing the problem without reference to individual texts led to interesting points which were exemplary in further discussions; on the other, however, the lack of concrete reference to textual sources could not lead to detailed analyses of social and economic structures and relations. A comprehensive analysis and representation of the Ur III administration has not been attempted, although W. Sallaberger (1999) has published a helpful survey of the royal inscriptions and administrative archives that will form the basis for such a study. This is above all a result of the mass of material (more than 46,000 published, and ca. 50,000 unpublished texts), of the lack of organizational conditions (for example, lists of references, prosopography) as well as the complicated state of text transmission (administrative texts contained linguistically limited bookkeeping terminology and were thus often difficult to interpret). Nonetheless, a number of individual studies are available that deal, from different standpoints, with the problem of administrative structure of the neo-Sumerian state and so offer a preliminary foundation for a necessary global analysis. In the respective studies, selected areas of production and administration are treated, both in the particular provinces as well as from an interregional standpoint. The administration of field agriculture in the Ur III period has been considered in several contributions by K. Maekawa (1974: 1-60, 1981: 37-61; 1982: 85-127, 1986: 85-120, 1986: 91-157, 1987a: 89-129, 1989: 113-144, etc.), while T. Gomi (1975: 1-14, 1980: 1-42), T. Maeda (1989: 69-111) and R. Englund (1995: 377-429) have above all dealt with questions of animal husbandry. Questions of the organization of craft production were dealt with by H. Waetzoldt (1972) and H. Neumann (1987, 1993). Further, studies by R. Englund dealing with fisheries and organization of labor (1990), by D. Snell (1982) and H. Neumann (1979: 15-67) dealing with trade, by H. Waetzoldt dealing with writing and literacy (1972) as well as by P. Vermaak dealing with temple administration (1989) should be named. Organization of labor and payment for services/rations were also objects of contributions by S. Monaco, (1985: 17-44, 1986: 1-20), H. Waetzoldt (1987: 117-141, 1988: 30-44) and K. Maekawa (1976: 9-44, 1987b: 49-71, 1988: 37-94), and the system of calendar and timekeeping has been dealt with in several substantive publications by Englund (1987), Cohen (1993) and Sallaberger (1993). Of importance for the characterization of neo-Sumerian administrative organization and practice is also the comprehensive monograph from A. Falkenstein dealing with neo-Sumerian legal texts (1956-1957). In recent times, light has been shed on the role and function of state jurisdiction in the setting of administrative organization of the empire above all through work on the Codex Urnammu (cp. the bibliographical entries by H. Neumann, in: Šulmu [Prague 1988] 223, fnn. 33-34; a complete and contemporary copy of this code is currently in the Oslo Schøyen collection). Problems of province administration have been objects of a number of studies, whereby the points of departure were as a rule consciously chosen methods of proceeding or quite certain administrative procedures or areas: the administrative organization of Nippur above all in connection with the administration of the Enlil temple household was treated by R. Zettler (1992, 1987: 117-131). The administration of the city-state and later the province Lagaš (pre-Sargonic to neo-Sumerian period) was treated by J.-P. Grégoire in a monograph (1962). Grégoire delivered, moreover, important contributions to the general form of Ur III administration (1970). Different aspects of province administration in Umma have been considered by T. B. Jones and J. W. Snyder (1961) und more recently by D. M. McGuinnes (1976) and P. Steinkeller (1987: 73-115). Important contributions to the administration of Puzriš-Dagan have been made by T. Gomi (1975), T. Maeda (1989), R. M. Sigrist (1979: 26-53, 1992) and P. Michalowski (1978). Reference should also be made to the complex studies by W. W. Hallo (1960: 88-114) and P. Steinkeller (1991: 19-41), which deal with the relations between the administrations of the empire and of the provinces. In connection with the empire administration stands the question of the role and function of kingship, assembly and civil service, for which see, among other contributions, C. Wilcke (1974: 177-232). A particular deficiency concerning current possibilities of Ur III period research is the lack of a prosopography. The now dated work of H. Limet, L'anthroponymie sumérienne (1968), must serve as an insufficient aid; this publication deals however essentially only with the grammatical and lexicographical structure of the neo-Sumerian personal names, with no attention paid to a diachronic presentation of officials concerned in administration. The recent publication by R. Di Vito, Studies in Third Millennium Sumerian and Akkadian Personal Names: The Designation and Conception of the Personal God (1993), presents prosopographical data in a similar way. A comprehensive study of the typology and terminology of the Ur III period bookkeeping is also lacking. D. C. Snell in Ledgers and Prices (1982) and R. Englund in Organisation und Verwaltung der Ur III-Fischerei (1990) dealt with this topic, which is a sine qua non for our understanding of the administrative structure of that period, in a preliminary fashion, with particular emphasis on the administrative documents for the province of Umma. Separate studies concerned with partial aspects of Ur III bookkeeping are, moreover, to be found in the works of K. Butz (see the Gelb bibliographical library). To the selected works cited here are to be added a number of comments in connection above all with the edition of "key texts". These cannot be listed here. We can summarize our knowledge of Ur III administration by noting that we are rather well and in detail informed about particular areas of administrative organization, but that we can scarcely make statements secured by textual analysis about the interlacing and cooperation of individual administrative units, about the lines of communication of state officials, or about the social structure of civil servants. A deficit of past research is further that the various texts have, as a rule, been treated by Assyriologists as isolates. Administrative texts, legal documents and royal and literary inscriptions must however be considered together. Only a complex analysis of source material will make it possible to achieve a structurally and functionally comprehensive judgment of the administrative organization of the Ur III period. At the same time, archival relationships (state administrative archives) allow statements only about particular areas of administration; it will be difficult in the future to make secure judgments about the countryside, characterized by village structures with their specific administrative organizations. The distribution of our source material in only five provinces of the empire limits our scope of knowledge in no small fashion. The social structure of the north remains shrouded in darkness; judgments about the organization in the south cannot automatically be applied there. Despite these limitations, which in a way reflect the relations between state administration and private spheres of life, a comprehensive treatment of the administrative structures and hierarchies based on available material seems promising, the more so give the fact that the south of the empire was the economically more potent part. Certainly the reconstruction of virtual archives of neo-Sumerian provincial archives now underway by staff and associates of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative will present researchers with entirely new tools to better understand the interconnectedness of this period of Babylonian history. H. Neumann - R. K. Englund


  • M. Cohen, The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East (Bethesda 1993)
  • A. Deimel. Sumerische Tempelwirtschaft zur Zeit Urukaginas und seiner Vorgänger (Rome 1931)
  • I. M. Diakonoff: "Socio-Economic Classes in Babylonia and the Babylonian Concept of Social Stratification," CRRA 18 (Munich 1972) 41-52
  • I. M. Diakonoff: "Slaves, Helots and Serfs in Early Antiquity," ActaAntHung 22 (1974) 45-78
  • I. M. Diakonoff: "The Structure of Near Eastern Society before the Middle of the 2nd Millennium B.C.," Oikumene 3 (1982) 7-100
  • R. Englund, "Administrative Timekeeping in Ancient Mesopotamia," JESHO 31 (1988) 121-185
  • R. Englund, Organisation und Verwaltung der Ur III-Fischerei (Berlin 1990)
  • R. Englund, "Regulating Dairy Productivity in the Ur III Period," Or 64 (1995) 377-429
  • A. Falkenstein. "La cité-temple sumérienne," Cahiers d'Histoire Mondiale 1 (1953-1954) 784-814
  • A. Falkenstein. Die neusumerischen Gerichtsurkunden I-III (Munich 1956-1957)
  • I. J. Gelb. "On the Alleged Temple and State Economies in Ancient Mesopotamia," Studi Volterra VI (Milan 1969) 137-154
  • I. J. Gelb. "Household and Family in Early Mesopotamia," OLA 5 (1979a) 1-97
  • I. J. Gelb. "Definition and Discussion of Slavery and Serfdom," UF 11 (1979b) 283-297
  • A. Goetze. "Shakkanakkus of the Ur III Empire," JCS 17 (1963) 1-31
  • T. Gomi: Über mu.tù.lugal: "Eingebrachtes für den König" in den neusumerischen Viehverwaltungsurkunden aus Drehim," Orient 11 (1975) 1-14
  • T. Gomi: "On Dairy Productivity at Ur in the Late Ur III Period," JESHO 23 (1980) 1-42
  • J.-P. Grégoire. La province méridionale de l'état de Lagash (Luxemburg 1962)
  • J.-P. Grégoire. Archives administratives sumériennes (Paris 1970)
  • W. W. Hallo. The ensi's of the Ur III Dynasty (Diss. Chicago 1953)
  • W. W. Hallo. "A Sumerian Amphictyony," JCS 14 (1960) 88-114
  • T. B. Jones - J. W. Snyder. Sumerian Economic Texts from the Third Ur Dynasty (Minneapolis 1961)
  • H. Limet. L'anthroponymie sumérienne (Paris 1968)
  • T. Maeda: "Bringing mu.t|m Livestock and the Puzurish-Dagan Organization in the Ur III Dynasty," ASJ 11 (1989) 69-111
  • K. Maekawa. "Agricultural Production in Ancient Sumer," Zinbun 13 (1974) 1-60
  • K. Maekawa. "The erén-People in Lagash of Ur III Times," RA 70 (1976) 9-44
  • K. Maekawa. "The Agricultural Texts of Ur III Lagash of the British Museum," I: ASJ 3 (1981) 37-61; II: ASJ 4 (1982) 85-127; III: ASJ 8 (1986) 85-120; IV: Zinbun 21 (1986) 91-157; V: ASJ 9 (1987a) 89-129; VI: ASJ 11 (1989) 113-144, etc.
  • K. Maekawa. "Collective Labor System in Girsu-Lagash: The Pre-Sargonic and Ur III Periods," AOS 68 (1987b) 49-71
  • K. Maekawa. "New Texts on the Collective Labor Service of the Er'n -People of Ur III Girsu," ASJ 10 (1988) 37-94
  • D. M. McGuinnes. Studies in Neo-Sumerian Administrative Machinery (Diss. Minneapolis 1976)
  • P. Michalowski. The Neo-Sumerian Silver Ring Texts (=SMS II/3; Malibu 1978)
  • S. F. Monaco. "Parametri e qualificatori nei testi economici della terza dinastia di Ur, I. Parametri qualificatori numerici, II. Qualificatori non numerici," OrAnt. 24 (1985) 17-44 and 25 (1986) 1-20
  • H. Neumann. Handwerk in Mesopotamien. Untersuchungen zu seiner Organisation in der Zeit der III. Dynastie von Ur (East-Berlin 1987; second, improved edition 1993)
  • H. Neumann. "Handel und Händler in der Zeit der III. Dynastie von Ur," AoF 6 (1979) 15-67
  • W. Sallaberger. Der kultische Kalender der Ur III-Zeit (UAVA 7/1-2; Berlin - New York 1993)
  • W. Sallaberger Aage Westenholz. Mesopotamien: Akkade-Zeit und Ur III Zeit (=OBO 16/3; Freiburg, Switzerland, 1999)
  • A. Schneider. Die Anfänge der Kulturwirtschaft. Die sumerische Tempelstadt (Essen 1920)
  • N. Schneider. Das Drehem- und Djoha-Archiv, 5 fascicles, Or 8 (1924), 18 (1925), 22 (1926), 23 (1927), 24 (1927), 45/46 (1930)
  • N. Schneider. Die Siegellegenden der Geschäftsurkunden der Stadt Ur in Chaldäa (Brussels 1950)
  • R. M. Sigrist. "Le trésor de Dréhem," OrNS 48 (1979) 26-53
  • R. M. Sigrist. Drehem (Bethesda 1992)
  • D. C. Snell. Ledgers and Prices: Early Mesopotamian Merchant Accounts (New Haven 1982)
  • P. Steinkeller. "The Administrative and Economic Organization of the Ur III State: The Core and the Periphery," SAOC 46 (1991) 19-41
  • P. Steinkeller. "The Foresters of Umma: Toward a Definition of Ur III Labor," AOS 68 (1987) 73-115
  • P. S. Vermaak. Die Hooftempeladministrateurs en Hooftempelpriesters in die Ur III-Periode (Diss. Pretoria 1989)
  • R. A. Di Vito, Studies in Third Millennium Sumerian and Akkadian Personal Names: The Designation and Conception of the Personal God (= Studia Pohl SM 16; Rome 1993)
  • H. Waetzoldt. Untersuchungen zur neusumerischen Textilindustrie (Rome 1972)
  • H. Waetzoldt. Das Schreiberwesen in Mesopotamien nach den Texten aus neusumerischer Zeit (unpublished, but widely available Habilitationsschrift, Heidelberg 1972)
  • H. Waetzoldt. "Compensation of Craft Workers and Officials in the Ur III Period," AOS 68 (1987) 117-141
  • H. Waetzoldt. "Die Situation der Frauen und Kinder anhand ihrer Einkommensverhältnisse zur Zeit der III. Dynastie von Ur," AoF 15 (1988) 30-44
  • C. Wilcke. "Zum Königtum in der Ur III-Zeit," CRRA 19 (Paris 1974) 177-232
  • R. L. Zettler. The Ur III Temple of Inanna at Nippur: The Operation and Organisation of Urban Religious Institutions in Mesopotamia in the Late Third Millennium B.C. (= BBVO 11; Berlin 1992)
  • R. L. Zettler. "Administration of the Temple of Inanna at Nippur under the Third Dynasty of Ur: Archaeological and Documentary Evidence," in: McG. Gibson - R. D. Biggs, eds., The Organization of Power. Aspects of Bureaucracy in the Ancient Near East (Chicago 1987) 117-131
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