After the collapse of the Akkadian Empire, there was a long period described as a “dark age” (Not to be confused with the post AD dark ages) which was characterized by the invasion of Gutians. Gutians were barbarians from the Zagros mountain region. Gutians, by their mismanagement, brought about famine, widespread decline of civilization and the cities were increasingly abandoned. The once great city of Akkad, that gave birth to Sargon of Akkad, was so thoroughly destroyed that its location is still disputed.
The Gutian rule was brought to an end by Utu-Hengal of Uruk. Weidner Chronicle, (part of Babylonian Chronicle, tablets that details Babylonian history) mark him as a fisherman who was given the rule by Marduk, the patron deity of Babylon. Utu-Hengal was thus the progenitor of the Sumerian Renaissance. After Utu-Hengal, Ur-Nammu became the king of Sumer. Ur-Nammu was from Ur, the famed birthplace of the Abraham, the first Jew and the patriarch of the Abrahamic faith. Today almost 54% of the world population belong to one of the Abrahamic Religions. Ur-Nammu gave birth to the Third Dynasty of Ur, also known as Neo-Sumerian empire or abbreviated as Ur III, though in some places, Utu-Hengal is named as the first king of Ur III.
Ur-Nammu is known for the Great Ziggurat of Ur and the Code of Ur-Nammu. Ziggurat were massive step pyramids built as religious and administrative centers. The Great Ziggurat of Ur was finished by Shulgi, Son of Ur-Nammu. Ur-Nammu is also known for Code of Ur-Nammu. Though the preamble of the code credits Ur-Nammu, it is believed that the code was given by Shulgi. Thus like a good son, Shulgi completed both the Ziggurat and the code that made the name of his father.
Code of Ur-Nammu is the oldest extant code of law, about three centuries older than the code of Hammurabi. Of more than 57 laws, 40 have been reconstructed. The law is very strict about serious crimes with capital punishment for murder, robbery, rape (of virgin) and adultery (Woman dies but the man goes free). But unlike the later laws, an eye for an eye is not the evident. An eye was worth three times (half Mina = 30 Shekel) than a foot (10 Shekel) while a limb was worth a full Mina. Perjury was also punished. Surprisingly, there is a strict recompense to be given for cutting of a nose, 2/3 thirds of Mina compared to 1/2 Mina for taking out an eye. Seems like losing nose had the same modern connotation of losing one’s honor. Sorcery was punished by the ordeal of water, in which the accused is submerged in water and is declared not guilty if s/he survived. Accusing someone of witchery was an easy way to get rid of them. And if by bad luck the accused survived, you just needed to pay 3 Shekel. Equality before law irrespective of means and social status (except for slaves) is professed.
Ur-Nammu was followed, as we have already seen, by his son Shulgi. Shulgi was deified in the 23rd year of his 48 year rule. He built resting places along main roads for travelers and boasts of running the 100 miles distance between two cities. He standardized the tax system. No wonder he was a “God”.
Within 50 years of death of Shulgi, the third dynasty of Ur was no more. Severe drought and attacks by Amorites weakened the dynasty making it easy for the Elamite rebels to attack Ur and capture Ibbi-Sin, the last king of Ur III. The Third Dynasty of Ur lasted from 2119 BCE to 2004 BCE in the Middle chronology. Even though the dynasty saw its sun set almost 4009 years ago, the gifts of administration, law, culture it gave humanity is still present. As one Amazon reviewer of the book History Begins at Sumer by Samuel Noah Kramer says, “We are all Sumerians”.