Ur was an ancient city in southern Mesopotamia, located near the mouth (at the time) of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers on the Persian Gulf and close to Eridu. It is considered to be one of the earliest known civilizations in world history. Because of marine regression, the remains are now well inland in present-day Iraq, south of the Euphrates on its right bank, and named Tell el-Mukayyar, near the city of Nasiriyah south of Baghdad.





The site is marked by the ruins of a ziggurat (right), still largely intact, and by a settlement mound. The ziggurat is a temple of Nanna, the moon deity in Sumerian mythology, and has two stages constructed from brick: in the lower stage the bricks are joined together with bitumen, in the upper stage they are joined with mortar. The Sumerian name for this city was Urim. Urim and Thummim



Ur was inhabited in the earliest stage of village settlement in southern Mesopotamia, the Ubaid period. However, it later appears to have been abandoned for a time. Scholars believe that, as the climate changed from relatively moist to drought in the early 3rd millennium BC, the small farming villages of the Ubaid culture consolidated into larger settlements, arising from the need for large-scale, centralized irrigation works to survive the dry spell. Ur became one such center, and by around 2600 BC, in the Sumerian Early Dynastic Period III, the city was again thriving. Ur by this time was considered sacred to Nanna.

The location of Ur was favourable for trade by sea and also by land routes into Arabia. Many elaborate tombs including that of Queen Puabi were constructed. In this cemetery were also found artifacts bearing the names of kings Meskalamdug and Akalamdug. Eventually, the kings of Ur became the effective rulers of Sumer, in the first dynasty of Ur established by the king Mesannepada (or Mesanepada, Mes-Anni-Padda), who is on the kinglist and is named as a son of Meskalamdug on one artifact.

The first dynasty was ended by an attack of Sargon of Akkad around 2340 BC. Not much is known about the following second dynasty, when the city was in eclipse.

The third dynasty was established when the king Ur-Nammu (or Urnammu) came to power, ruling between ca. 2112 BC and 2094 BC. During his rule, temples, including the ziggurat, were built, and agriculture was improved through irrigation. His code of laws (a fragment was identified in Istanbul in 1952) is one of the oldest such documents known, preceding the code of Hammurabi. He and his successor Shulgi were both deified during their reigns, and after his death, he continued as a hero-figure: one of the surviving works of Sumerian literature describes the death of Ur-Nammu and his journey to the underworld.

According to one estimate, Ur was the largest city in the world from c. 2030 to 1980 BC. Its population was approximately 65,000.

The third dynasty fell around 1950 BC to the Elamites; the Lament for Ur commemorates this event. Later, Babylon captured the city.

In the 6th century BC there was new construction in Ur under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. The last Babylonian king, Nabonidus, improved the ziggurat. However the city started to decline from around 550 BC and was no longer inhabited after about 500 BC, perhaps owing to drought, changing river patterns, and the silting of the outlet to the Persian Gulf.




Biblical Ur

Ur is considered by many to be the city of Ur Kasdim mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the birthplace of the patriarch Abram (Abraham). This identification is, however, disputed. Ur was a powerful sophisticated polytheist city located west of modern day Basra in southern Iraq near the banks of the Euphrates river that prospered more than 2000 years before the birth of Christ and thought to be the place where Abraham spent his early years.

Ur is mentioned four times in the Tanakh or Old Testament, with the distinction "of the Kasdim/Kasdin" - traditionally rendered in English as "Ur of the Chaldees", referring to the Chaldeans, who were already settled there by around 900 BC. In Genesis, the name is found in 11:28, 11:31 and 15:7. In Nehemiah 9:7, a single passage mentioning Ur is a paraphrase of Genesis.

The Book of Jubilees states that Ur was founded in 1688 Anno Mundi (year of the world) by 'Ur son of Kesed, presumably the offspring of Arphaxad, adding that in this same year, wars began on Earth.



In the mid-17th century, the site was visited by Pietro della Valle, who recorded the presence of ancient bricks stamped with strange symbols, cemented together with bitumen, as well as inscribed pieces of black marble that appeared to be seals.

The first excavation was made by British consul J.E. Taylor, who partly uncovered the ziggurat. Clay cylinders found in the four corners of the top stage of the ziggurat bore an inscription of Nabonidus (Nabuna'id), the last king of Babylon (539 BC), closing with a prayer for his son Belshar-uzur (Bel-sarra-Uzur), the Belshazzar of the Book of Daniel. Evidence was found of prior restorations of the ziggurat by Ishme-Dagan of Isin and Gimil-Sin of Ur, and by Kuri-galzu, a Kassite king of Babylon in the 14th century BC. Nebuchadnezzar also claims to have rebuilt the temple. Taylor further excavated an interesting Babylonian building, not far from the temple, part of an ancient Babylonian necropolis.

All about the city he found abundant remains of burials of later periods. Apparently, in the later times, owing to its sanctity, Ur became a favourite place of sepulchure, so that even after it had ceased to be inhabited it still continued to be used as a necropolis.

After Taylor's time the site was visited by numerous travelers, almost all of whom have found ancient Babylonian remains, inscribed stones and the like, lying upon the surface. The site was considered rich in remains, and relatively easy to explore.

Excavations from 1922 to 1934 were funded by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania and led by the archaeologist Sir Charles Leonard Woolley. A total of about 1,850 burials were uncovered, including 16 that were described as "royal tombs" containing many valuable artifacts, including the Standard of Ur. Most of the royal tombs were dated to about 2600 BC. The finds included the unlooted tomb of a queen thought to be Queen Puabi - the name is known from a cylinder seal found in the tomb, although there were two other different and unnamed seals found in the tomb. Many other people had been buried with her, in a form of human sacrifice. Near the ziggurat were uncovered the temple E-nun-mah and buildings E-dub-lal-mah (built for a king), E-gi-par (residence of the high priestess) and E-hur-sag (a temple building).

Outside the temple area, many houses used in everyday life were found. Excavations were also made below the royal tombs layer: a 3.5m thick layer of alluvial clay covered the remains of earlier habitation, including pottery from the Ubaid period, the first stage of settlement in southern Mesopotamia. Woolley later wrote many articles and books about the discoveries.

Most of the treasures excavated at Ur are in the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Archaeological names of periods of habitation include:

  • Ubaid period
  • Sumerian Early Dynastic period III
  • Ur-III, c. 2100 BC­2000 BC