Third Dynasty of Ur

Ur III dynasty

Ur III dynasty
c. 2112 BC – c. 2004 BC
Map showing the Ur III state and its sphere of influence.
Map showing the Ur III state and its sphere of influence.
Common languagesSumerian language
Sumerian religion
• c. 2112–2095 BC (MC)
Ur-Nammu (first)
• c. 2028–2004 BC (MC)
Ibbi-Sin (last)
Historical eraBronze Age
• Established
c. 2112 BC (MC)
c. 2004 BC (MC)
• Disestablished
c. 2004 BC (MC)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Gutian dynasty of Sumer
Old Elamite period
First Babylonian dynasty
Dynasty of Isin
Old Assyrian Empire
Old Hittite Empire
Middle Kingdom of Egypt
Today part of

The Third Dynasty of Ur, also called the Neo-Sumerian Empire, refers to a 22nd to 21st century BC (middle chronology) Sumerian ruling dynasty based in the city of Ur and a short-lived territorial-political state which some historians consider to have been a nascent empire. The Third Dynasty of Ur is commonly abbreviated as Ur III by historians studying the period.

The Third Dynasty of Ur was the last Sumerian dynasty which came to preeminent power in Mesopotamia. It began after several centuries of control by Akkadian and Gutian kings. It controlled the cities of Isin, Larsa and Eshnunna and extended as far north as Upper Mesopotamia. The dynasty corresponded to a Sumerian renaissance following the fall of the First Dynasty of Ur.


The Third Dynasty of Ur arose some time after the fall of the Akkad Dynasty. The period between the last powerful king of the Akkad Dynasty, Shar-Kali-Sharri, and the first king of Ur III, Ur-Nammu, is not well documented, but most Assyriologists posit that there was a brief "dark age", followed by a power struggle among the most powerful city-states. On the king-lists, Shar-Kali-Shari is followed by two more kings of Akkad and six in Uruk; however, there are no year names surviving for any of these, nor even any artifacts confirming that any of these reigns was historical — save one artifact for Dudu of Akkad (Shar-Kali-Sharri's immediate successor on the list). Akkad's primacy, instead, seems to have been usurped by Gutian invaders from the Zagros, whose kings ruled in Mesopotamia for an indeterminate period (124 years according to some copies of the kinglist, only 25 according to others.) An illiterate and nomadic people, their rule was not conducive to agriculture, nor record-keeping, and by the time they were expelled, the region was crippled by severe famine and skyrocketing grain prices. Their last king, Tirigan, was driven out by Utu-hengal of Uruk, beginning the "Sumerian Renaissance".

Utu-hengal, Prince of the Summerian city of Uruk, praying for victory against the Gutian king Tirigan. 19th century illustration.
Empire of the Third Dynasty of Ur (in green), with territory, zone of influence, and colonial outposts, at their greatest. West is at top, North at right.

Following Utu-Hengal's reign, Ur-Nammu (originally a general) founded the Third Dynasty of Ur, but the precise events surrounding his rise are unclear. The Sumerian King List tells us that Utu-hengal had reigned for seven years (or 426, or 26 in other copies), although only one year-name for him is known from records, that of his accession, suggesting a shorter reign.

It is possible that Ur-Nammu was originally his governor. There are two stelae discovered in Ur that include this detail in an inscription about Ur-Nammu's life.

Ur-Nammu rose to prominence as a warrior-king when he crushed the ruler of Lagash in battle, killing the king himself. After this battle, Ur-Nammu seems to have earned the title 'king of Sumer and Agade.'

Ur's dominance over the Neo-Sumerian Empire was consolidated with the famous Code of Ur-Nammu, probably the first such law-code for Mesopotamia since that of Urukagina of Lagash centuries earlier.

Many significant changes occurred in the empire under Shulgi's reign. He took steps to centralize and standardize the procedures of the empire. He is credited with standardizing administrative processes, archival documentation, the tax system, and the national calendar. He captured the city of Susa and the surrounding region, toppling Elamite king Kutik-Inshushinak, while the rest of Elam fell under control of Shimashki dynasty.[1]

The military and conquests of Ur III

Iddin-Sin, King of the Simurrum. The Simurrum, a mountain tribe, were vanquished by the armies of the Third Dynasty of Ur, circa 2000 BC (detail)

In the last century of the 3rd millennium BC, it is believed that the kings of Ur waged several conflicts around the frontiers of the kingdom. These conflicts are believed to have been influenced by the king of Akkad. Due to little evidence of how the kings organized their forces, it is unclear whether defensive forces were in the center or outside the kingdom. One of the things we do know is that one of the rulers who was the second ruler of the dynasty, Šulgi achieved some expansion and conquest. These were soon continued by his three successors but their conquests are less frequent with time.[2]

At the very height of the expansion of Ur, they had taken territory from southeastern Anatolia to the Iranian shore of the Persian Gulf, a testimony to the strength of the Ur Dynasty.The armies of Ur did bring back precious booty when they conquered a place. There are hundreds of texts that explain how treasures were seized by the Ur III armies and brought back to the kingdom after many victories. Also in some texts it appears that the Shulgi campaigns were the most profitable for the kingdom. It is most likely the main people who benefited from the lootings were the kings and temples that were back in the main parts of the kingdom.[2]

Conflicts with northeastern mountain tribes

The rulers of Ur III were often in conflict with the highland tribes of the Zagros mountain area who dwelled in the northeastern portion of Mesopotamian area. The most important of these tribes were the Simurrum and the Lullubi tribal kingdoms.[3][4] They were also often in conflict with Elam.

Timeline of rulers

Assyriologists employ many complicated methods for establishing the most precise dates possible for this period, but controversy still exists. Generally, scholars use either the conventional (middle) or the low (short) chronologies. They are as follows:

Enthroned King Ur-Nammu, founder of the Third Dynasty of Ur c. 2047 BC, on a cylinder seal.[5] His name appears vertically in the upper right corner (𒌨𒀭𒇉).
Ruler Middle Chronology
All dates BC
Short Chronology
All dates BC
Utu-hengal 2119–2113 2055–2048
Ur-Nammu 2112–c. 2095 2047–2030
Shulgi 2094–2047 2029–1982
Amar-Sin 2046–2038 1981–1973
Shu-Sin 2037–2029 1972–1964
Ibbi-Sin 2028–2004 1963–1940


Abraham, the common patriarch of the three Abrahamic religions, was probably born in Ur around that time, although estimated dates range from 2300 BC until 1960 BC, date of the destruction of Ur, and the identification of Ur with the Ur of the Chaldees in the Hebrew Bible is not entirely certain.[6][disputed (for: unreliable source + Abraham is not considered a historical figure) ]

Fall of Ur III

The power of the Neo-Sumerians was waning. Ibbi-Sin in the 21st century launched military campaigns into Elam, but did not manage to penetrate far into the country. In 2004/1940 BC (middle/short chronology respectively), the Elamites, allied with the people of Susa and led by Kindattu, king of the Elamite Shimashki dynasty, managed to sack Ur and lead Ibbi-Sin into captivity, ending the third dynasty of Ur. After this victory, the Elamites destroyed the kingdom, and ruled through military occupation for the next 21 years.[7][8]

Mesopotamia then fell under Amorite influence. The Amorite kings of the Dynasty of Isin formed successor states to Ur III. They managed to drive the Elamites out of Ur, rebuilt the city, and returned the statue of Nanna that the Elamites had plundered. The Amorites were nomadic tribes from the northern Levant who were Northwest Semitic speakers, unlike the native Akkadians of southern Mesopotamia and Assyria, who spoke East Semitic. By around the 19th century BC, much of southern Mesopotamia was occupied by the Amorites. The Amorites at first did not practice agriculture like more advanced Mesopotamians, preferring a semi-nomadic lifestyle, herding sheep. Over time, Amorite grain merchants rose to prominence and established their own independent dynasties in several south Mesopotamian city-states, most notably Isin, Larsa, Eshnunna, Lagash, and later, founding Babylon as a state.