1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ur

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UR, one of the most important of the early Babylonian cities, represented to-day by the ruin mounds called Mughair (Moghair), or, more properly, Muqayyar (Muḳayyar), “the pitched,” or “pitch-built.” It lay 140 m. S.E. of Babylon (30° 59′ N., 46° 5′ E.), about 6 m. S. of the present bed of the Euphrates, half-way between that and the low, pebbly sandstone hills which form the border of the Syrian desert, and almost opposite the mouth of the Shatt-el-Haï, on the Sa’ade canal. It was the site of a famous temple, E-Nannar, “house of Nannar,” and the chief seat in Babylonia of the worship of the moon-god, Nannar, later known as Sin (q.v.). Under the title Ur of the Chaldees, it is mentioned in the Bible as the original home of Abraham. It is worthy of notice that Haran, in upper Mesopotamia, which also was a home of Abraham, was likewise a famous site of worship of the god Sin, and that the name of that god also appears in Mount Sinai, which was historically connected With the origin of the Hebrew nation and religion. While not equal, apparently, in antiquity, and certainly not in religious importance, to the cities of Nippur, Eridu and Erech, Ur, from a very early period, played a most important part politically and commercially. Lying at the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris, at the head of the Persian Gulf, it enjoyed very extensive water-communications with rich and important regions. Lying close to the Syrian desert, at a natural point of communication with Arabia, it was the centre of caravan communication with interior, southern and western Arabia. In the Sumerian period, antedating the time of Sargon, about or before 3000 B.C., we find Ur exercising hegemony in Babylonia under a king whose name is read Lugal-Kigub-Nidudu. Comparatively early, however, it became a centre of Semitic influence and power, and immediately after the time of the Sargonids it comes to thefront, under King Ur-Gur, or Ur-Engur, the great builder of ziggurats (stage-towers) in the ancient Babylonian cities, as mistress of both northern and southern Babylonia, and even seems to have exacted tribute from countries as far remote as southern Syria. With relatively brief intervals, during which Erech and Isin come to the fore, Ur held the hegemony in Babylonia until or shortly before the Elamite invasion, when Larsa became the seat of authority. After the period of the Elamite dominion and the establishment of the empire of Babylon, under Khammurabi, about or shortly after 2000 B.C., Ur lost its political independence and, to a considerable extent, its political importance. The gradual filling up of the Persian Gulf had probably also begun to interfere with its trade supremacy. It continued, however, to be a place of religious and literary importance until the close of the Babylonian period. The ruins of the ancient site were partly excavated by Loftus and Taylor in 1854. They are egg-shaped, with the sharper end towards the north-west, somewhat elevated above the surrounding country, which is liable to be inundated by the Euphrates, and encircled by a wall 2946 yards in circumference, with a length of 1056 and a greatest breadth of 825 yds. The principal ruin is the temple of E—Nannar, in the north-western part of the mounds. This was surrounded by a low outer wall, within which rose a platform, about 20 ft. in height, on which stood a two-storeyed ziggurat, or stage-tower, a right-angled parallelogram in shape, the long sides towards the north-east and south-west. The lower stage measured 198 ft. in length by 133 ft. in breadth, and is still standing to the height of 27 ft. The second storey was 14 ft. in height and measured 119 by 75 ft. The ascent to the first storey was by a stairway 8 ft. broad, on the north-east side. Access to the summit of the second storey was had on the same side, either by an inclined plane or a broad stairway—it is not clear which—extending, apparently, the whole length of that stage. Ruins on the summit show that there was a chamber on top, apparently of a very ornamental character, like that at Eridu. The bricks of the lower stage are laid in bitumen, and bear the inscription of Ur-Gur. The bricks of the upper stage are laid in mortar, and clay cylinders found in the four corners of this stage bore an inscription of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon (639 B.C.), closing with a prayer for his son Belshar-uzur (Bel-sarra-Uzur), the Belshazzar of the book of Daniel. Between these two extremes were found evidences of restoration by Ishme-Dagan of Isin and Girnil-Sin of Ur, somewhere towards the middle of the 3rd millennium B.C., and of Kuri-galzu, a Cossaean (Kassite) king of Babylon, of the 14th century B.C. Nebuchadrezzar also claims to have rebuilt this temple. Taylor further excavated an interesting Babylonian building, not far from the temple, and 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 sepulture, so that after it had ceased to be inhabited it still continued to be used as a necropolis. The great quantity of pitch used in the construction of these ruins, which has given them the name by which they are to-day known among the Arabs, is evidence of a peculiarly close relation with some pitch-producing neighbourhood, presumably Hit, which lay at the head of the Sa’ade canal on which Ur was located. Large piles of slab and scoria, in the neighbourhood of Ur, show, apparently, that the pitch was also used for manufacturing purposes, and that Ur was a manufacturing as well as a commercial city. Since Taylor's time Mughair has been visited by numerous travellers, almost all of whom have found ancient Babylonian remains, inscribed stones and the like, lying upon the surface. The site is rich in remains, and is relatively easy to explore.

See J. E. Taylor, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1855), vol. xv.; W. K. Loftus, Chaldaea and Susiana (1857); John P. Peters, Nippur (1897); H. V. Hilprecht, Excavations in Assyria and Babylonia (1904).  (J. P. Pe.)