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Ur

Ur was an important Sumerian city-state in Mes­o­po­ta­mia. It seems to have been founded by 3800 BCE, enjoyed a couple of millennia of prestige and prosperity, before finally declining in the 6th century BCE and being entirely depopulated by the start of the 5th century BCE.

During its heyday, Ur was a coastal city on the Persian Gulf, and a key trading port, controlling the flow of imported goods up the rivers into Mes­o­po­ta­mia. The land would have been marshy, and supported plenty of agriculture without the need for irrigation (although by the time the city got really prosperous, they improved output by introducing irrigation anyway). Its social system was always highly stratified, with slavery practised. There were also farmers, artisans, doctors, scribes and priests, with the highest-ranking priests living in incredible luxury. Ur’s initial inhabitants were speakers of Sumerian, and they had a period of particular prosperity around the 26th and 25th centuries BCE (the First Dynasty of Ur). Between the 24th and 22nd centuries BCE, the city (and the surrounding area) came under the control of Semitic-speaking Akkadians. After a brief period of chaos when that empire fell, the Third Dynasty of Ur kicked off from around the middle of the 21st century BCE. Its first two rulers were Ur-Nammu and later Shulgi, who were both revered as deities after their deaths. During this period Ur was the most populous city in the world, with about 65,000 residents, and many grand temples were built including the Ziggurat of Ur. The city fell to the Elamites around 1940 BCE, an event immortalised in Lament for Ur. It lost its political importance after that, and its agricultural land became increasingly saline and bad for farming, but it retained its economic importance throughout the next millennium. Shulgi was a well-known historical figure for at least 2,000 years after his death.

Ur came under the control of the Neo-Assyrian Empire from the 10th century to the late 7th century BCE; after that it was ruled by the Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian Empire (those are two names for the same thing), during which time at least one Babylonian king restored the Ziggurat of Ur (which had crumbled to ruins before that). However, the city declined once that empire fell to the Persian Archaemenid Empire, possibly because falling sea levels put the once-coastal city considerably inland, and its agricultural land started to dry up, in addition to suffering from excessive salinity.

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